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Chicago International Film Festival

The Movies: October 8-14

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Friday 8 October

The White Suit

This film marks the not especially monumental directorial debut of popular Yugoslav actor Lazar Ristovski, who's probably best known here for his role in Emir Kusturica's Underground. Ristovski's debt to Kusturica is immediately apparent, though his is a kinder and more humanistic brand of absurdism. A gentle soldier (Ristovski) takes a train home after a telegram from his brother tells him their mother has died and to bring his white suit when he comes. Along the way he meets all kinds of people who do inexplicable things for inexplicable reasons, all having something to do, we can only surmise, with the expression of national character. Everything's meant to be madly surreal and folkloric--a dog that doggedly follows the hero, a baggage car full of fireworks for the engineer's son, a man who travels with his own cow because he's allergic to supermarket milk, a Russian underwater stripper named Carmen with her impassioned impresario/pimp in tow. There are moments when we glimpse what the film could be--the hero says "I love you" to Carmen in 100 different languages in rapid succession while hanging outside her train window. But even these moments come off as mildly endearing at best. As an actor Ristovski possesses enormous charm. As a director he knows only how to cast his hero well. (RS) (Water Tower downstairs, 4:15)

The Personals

A quiet, attractive 30ish woman quits her job as an ophthalmologist and places an ad for a mate in a Taipei paper. She receives more than 100 responses and meets a series of men for conversation, tea, and occasional sympathy. Some prospective hubbies are studied in long single takes, some are revealed in quid pro quo interactions with the heroine, while the remaining interviewees are glimpsed only in rapid montages. Among the most memorable are a betel chewer and heavy smoker who promises to give up both habits if she'll marry him, a shoe salesman with a fetishist's love of his job, a voice actor who carries on animated conversations among his multiple assumed characters, an autistic young man whose mother is looking for a wife to cure him, and a pimp with attitude who's recruiting for his business. Just when The Personals threatens to become gimmicky, director Chen Kuo-fu starts shifting focus from the men to the woman, whose long reflective journeys by train and bus and boat to and from the interviews take up more and more of the film. Her story, revealed in bits and snatches, makes her search appear increasingly enigmatic, tracing a completely different arc and coloring all that has gone before. (RS) (Water Tower upstairs, 4:30)

Harmonium in My Memory

Set in 1963 in rural South Korea, Lee Young-jae's film centers on a love triangle: 17-year-old student Hongyeon develops a crush on her handsome, idealistic teacher Suha, who in turn has fallen hard for another teacher, Eunhee. Mixing comic whimsy with drama, Lee sets his story in the pastoral North Cholia province, an area resistant to the changes wrought by modern technology. This is a film of many fine small moments, a tender backward glance at the recent past that never stoops to easy sentimentality. Bracketed at the beginning and end by images of a much older Hongyeon, seen playing the Connie Francis record that was a favorite of Suha's, the film is never clear about what it means to hold on to old memories, though it does imply that while the past is never really gone, it is ephemeral and difficult to retrieve. And while there's much sweetness in Lee's vision of the past, there's also much sorrow--which probably accounts more than any other feeling for the persistence of memory. (JK) (Water Tower upstairs, 6:00)

Creature

Parris Patton's documentary follows a drag queen as he transforms himself into a preoperative transsexual, eventually visiting his parents on their farm in an effort to win their unconditional love. Patton emphasizes Stacey's transformation but includes other interviews with drag queens and prostitutes, repetitiously crosscutting to dad back on the farm. But once Stacey and his boyfriend hit the road to visit Stacey's folks, the film finds its focus. Stacey's mother and grandmother fear for his soul and try to convince him to live a "normal" life, and Patton affords the parents and grandmother some sympathy for their heartfelt emotions rather than demonizing them as one-dimensional proselytizers. Stacey, on the other hand, is a born performer, and one can't help but wonder how many of his dramatic revelations have been created for the camera. On the same program is David Chartier and Avi Zev Wieder's short subject, I Remember. (LG) (Music Box, 6:30)

Raise the Heart!

Solveig Anspach's involving if dramatically muted French feature is a sobering examination of the narrow divide between hope and selfishness, personal fulfillment and social irresponsibility. A young woman who's just discovered she's pregnant is devastated to learn that she also has breast cancer. Her doctor advises her to terminate the pregnancy because chemotherapy could harm her baby, then a second doctor tells her the treatment poses no particular risk. This isn't great filmmaking--at times it's close to television. But the framing of the issues in deeply subjective terms and the examination of gender and sexuality issues make it resonate. (PM) (Water Tower upstairs, 6:30)

Two Streams

The previous films of the imaginative, versatile Sao Paulo-based Carlos Reichenbach to reach Chicago are his 1993 Buccaneer Soul, which charts the friendship of two intellectual writers in the 50s and 60s, and his 1987 Suburban Angels, a surrealist fantasia suggesting both Raul Ruiz and the French New Wave. This feature is a lyrical, episodic story of two adolescent girls staying at a country house in 1969 who develop crushes on an uncle, a political refugee in hiding. The images have some of the ripe flavors and color coordinations of Douglas Sirk's 50s melodramas, and the music is lush and emotional. There's a fair amount of comedy, and some of the performances periodically turn artificial, as if Reichenbach were deliberately camping up the nostalgic atmosphere. The pacing is leisurely in spots, but the sweeping, bravura camera movements sometimes attain delirium. (JR) (Water Tower downstairs, 6:30)

The Dream Catcher

Ed Radtke's feature, his second, could serve as a template for the typical American independent film: it's a road movie about a pair of alienated teens (Maurice Compte and Paddy Connor) who roam the midwest looking for missing parents--a mother who may or may not be working in a diner, a father who may or may not be in jail. If sincerity alone accounted for artistic value, The Dream Catcher would be some sort of masterpiece:

Radtke's commitment to his characters is complete and unshakable. But there's hardly one original moment in all of the film's 98 minutes, as the two kids hitchhike, hop freight trains, and bond with Indians. In the end, the film is far more sentimental than either its counterparts in the 30s (Wild Boys of the Road) or the 40s (They Live by Night). (DK) (Water Tower downstairs, 6:45)

Dreaming of Joseph Lees

There must be a film school in England where they teach the exact shade of dreariness appropriate to any given historical period. The late 50s were on the underlit sepia side, judging from Dreaming of Joseph Lees, Eric Styles's first feature. In this dank romantic triangle set in a rustic corner of Somerset, Eva (Samantha Morton) is a clerk at a local sawmill, dreaming since childhood of her distant cousin Joseph Lees (Rupert Graves); his loss of a leg while collecting geology specimens only heightens his elegant appeal. Meanwhile her own quiet elegance has captured the heart of the local lothario, her best friend's brother Harry (Lee Ross). Eva and Harry's yearning for someone a step higher on the class (read evolutionary) ladder is spelled out in terms so cliched and excessive as to be positively soap operatic. Harry is not only a farmer who mucks about with pigs, he's also an amateur boxer who gets beaten bloody. Joseph, when he isn't on the continent sending Eva art books in Italian, languidly limps by the sea. The most fascinating aspect of this film is its portrayal of a woman emotionally blackmailed by the suicide threats of a lower-class hysterical male--an inversion of the usual class and gender roles as revelatory as it is resonant. Melodrama is an underrated genre, and there are unfortunately few moments when Styles seems willing to drop his careful, well-made period-piece realism and plunge into the absurd, mitigated mess around it. (RS) (Water Tower upstairs, 7:00)

The Carriers Are Waiting

J Documentarian Benoit Mariage's first fiction feature is an extraordinarily subtle, witty, and nuanced work, its editing light, free-form, and wholly nonjudgmental. It chronicles--in black, white, and a lot of gray--the last months of the 20th century as lived by a family of four in the Walloon region of Belgium. Dominating the film is Roger (Benoit Poelvoorde), an irascible paterfamilias who gives new meaning to the phrase "acting out" as he frantically brainstorms to keep his family's head above water. Learning that a local business is offering a four-door sedan to anyone who can set a new world record--any record--he determines that his heir, a great placid slug of a son, is destined to become the new world door-opening champion. To this end he hires a trainer, builds a freestanding door frame in the middle of his backyard, and nearly works the kid to death with a torturous entering-and-exiting regimen as grueling as it is absurd. Roger's stunning lack of sensitivity in family matters is not unrelated to his work as a newspaper stringer--he unapologetically asks a shell-shocked deliveryman who's just run over a teenager to hold up his victim's driver's license so he can get them both in the shot, then sends his eight-year-old daughter to pick up one of the loaves of bread the collision has spilled onto the street ("no, not that one--a baguette"). But despite his dubious child-raising practices, Roger is no monster. For his daughter, riding through the night on the back of her father's motorcycle with her arms around him, these police-blotter excursions are a magic time of closeness, of wordless communion. (RS) (Music Box, 7:00)

The Grandfather

Fernando Fernan-Gomez plays an elderly patriarch in 19th-century Spain who returns to his birthplace to decide which of his two young granddaughters should inherit his wealth. Jose Luis Garci directed and cowrote this feature, the fifth of his movies to be nominated for an Academy Award. (Water Tower upstairs, 8:15)

The Love of Three Oranges

J A small gem, this film marks the directorial debut of Taiwanese writer and theater director Hung Hung, the pen name of Hung-ya Yen. Hung, who cowrote Edward Yang's A Confucian Confusion and his extraordinary A Brighter Summer Day, has created a deceptively simple chamber piece about a love triangle between three young Taipei residents. JJ (Jiunn-jye Lee), recently back from military service and unhappily employed delivering pizzas, rekindles a relationship with a former girlfriend (Angela Ma), only to discover that she's romantically involved with her female college roommate (Wei-chi Chen). The relationships are marked by an awkward emotional ambivalence that's rarely acknowledged by the characters but conveyed wonderfully through Hung's use of space, framing, and music (a fine original score by Chi-ling Liu). Running just under an hour, The Love of Three Oranges is a brief snapshot of intersecting lives that captures the power of unexpressed emotions with quiet poignancy. On the same program, Came to Visit, a 40-minute short from Estonia. (RP) (Music Box, 8:30)

The Wisdom of Crocodiles

Po Chih Leong directed this vampire film from the United Kingdom, starring Jude Law as a predatory seducer. (Water Tower upstairs, 8:45)

The Town

Shot on digital video, Yousry Nasrallah's film belongs to the heightened melodramatic tradition of Egyptian cinema epitomized by Nasrallah's mentor, the great Youssef Chahine. A fable of immigration and identity, it's based on a poem by Constantine Cavafy, yet seems equally in debt to the RKO story department of the late 40s and early 50s. Roschdy Zem, in a performance that suggests the young Jack Palance, is a would-be actor who lives and works in Cairo's market district; following his dream, he moves to Paris but finds the only acting he's allowed to do is in the boxing ring, where he's expected to perform in fixed fights. A beating by gangsters leaves him without money or memory in a Paris hospital, and upon his release he wanders the streets like a film noir figure, unaware of where or who he is. Nasrallah handles the outsized emotions and grand themes with ease and aplomb; Claire Denis (Nenette and Boni) contributed to the script. (DK) (Water Tower upstairs, 9:00)

The White Suit

See listing above under this date. (Water Tower downstairs, 9:00)

American Movie

Who isn't tired of American independent filmmakers with yuppie bank accounts and film-school pedigrees? Meet Mark Borchardt, Milwaukee high school dropout with three kids, impossible debts, a drinking problem, and part-time jobs as a paperboy and a janitor at a cemetery--who's also writer, director, editor, and overacting star of a low-budget splatter movie he's been struggling to finish for years. He's the improbable protagonist of Chris Smith's marvelous feature documentary, an alternately hilarious black comedy and sad story of a screwed-up chronic overreacher who's always involving his peculiar family, his girlfriend, and his lawbreaking drinking buddies in his Ed Wood-like movie schemes. Borchardt: "The American dream stays with me every day--and thank God they've extended my phone bill until Friday." (Borchardt's horror-psychodrama, Coven, recently showed at the Toronto international film festival; in a bargain-basement George Romero, Sam Fuller kind of way, it's pretty fascinating outsider cinema.) (GP) (Music Box, 9:15)

La maladie de Sachs

French director Michel Deville, virtually unheard from since the release of his subtle La lectrice in 1988, has adapted a well-known French novel about a doctor overwhelmed by the moral and medical demands of his isolated village. The film is capably made, but it poaches on the themes, mood, and story of Robert Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest (1950) and even attempts Bresson's brilliant conjunction of form and storytelling. Like the Bresson film, La maladie de Sachs concerns the self-punishing spiritual purification of a rural figure whose values, medical skills, and deeply humanistic empathy for his patients are insufficient to treat their pain. And as in the Bresson, the doctor's own physical deterioration becomes a metaphor for his insignificance. But this movie lacks the transcendent poetic intensity of the Bresson, and its final, protracted third is repetitive. Still, it does have a somber purity, and Deville's work with his actors and his feel for landscapes and physical space are superb. (PM) (Water Tower upstairs, 9:15)

The Junk Food Generation

Writer-director Shinobu Sakagami's first feature concerns a young Japanese woman who meets a homeless Japanese man (Sakagami) in the U.S. They decide to steal drugs from the Mafia, then flee to avoid reprisals. (Water Tower downstairs, 9:15)

Saturday 9 October

In the Rye

Roman Vavra's feature from the Czech Republic recounts three separate tales set in the same rye field. (Water Tower upstairs, 1:00)

Loving Jezebel

J Theodorous can't help himself: he's compulsively attracted to women already involved with other men. As the film opens, he's about to bail out the back window of his apartment, fleeing from the enraged husband of his lover. From there the film goes back in time as Theo describes his unrequited love in kindergarten for Nikki Noodleman, who preferred the company of another pint-size stud. In writer-director Kwyn Bader's lively, uncynical comedy, Theodorous never succumbs to earnest self-analysis but knows he must change his wanton ways if he's to have any hope of keeping his sanity. Bader has loaded his pithy script with great dialogue and some wonderfully wry observations by Theodorous about true love. And Hill Harper negotiates Theo's comic turns with as much aplomb as he does the dramatic moments (of which there are many); Nicole Ari Parker is terrific as Frances, Theodorous's first true adult lover, a sort of kooky, repressed dominatrix; and Sandrine Holt is touching as Mona, the aggressive, needy West Indian friend who fantasizes about returning to Trinidad with Theodorous in tow. It's nice to see a film that has an interracial cast for no other reason than that it takes place in multicultural New York. (JK) (Water Tower upstairs, 1:00)

Two Streams

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Water Tower downstairs, 1:45)

Minazuki

Minazuki has the hallmark of director Rokuro Mochizuki's films--a blending of gangster and soft-porn genre elements into a surprisingly feeling but often violent work. Cuckolded and abandoned by the wife he's adored, mild-mannered accountant Suwa, regarded by all as a bumbling loser, is joined by the wife's yakuza brother in tracking her down. This brutally black comedy-drama also throws Suwa together with Yumi, a much-abused young prostitute who makes the unlikely discovery that this computer geek is a powerhouse in bed. The trio head off to a provincial seaside resort, Suwa and Yumi coupling frenziedly and the brother demonstrating increasingly savage behavior. Mochizuki skillfully interweaves themes of sadism, obsession, and power, which intersect in an explosive surprise ending. Minazuki isn't his best, but it's a fine introduction to his quirky work. (BS) (Water Tower downstairs, 2:00)

Raise the Heart!

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Water Tower upstairs, 2:15)

Big Wheels, Angels & Turtles: International Shorts

Short films from Germany, Belgium, Australia, Canada, and the U.S. (Music Box, 2:30)

The Love of Three Oranges

J See listing under Friday, October 8. (Music Box, 2:45)

Afraid of Everything

Nathalie Richard, who has done superb work with Jacques Rivette and Olivier Assayas, is the primary reason to see this black-and-white feature from director-writer David Barker. She plays a Frenchwoman who's been permanently injured in a car accident and now suffers from agoraphobia, which effectively traps her in the New York loft where she lives with her American architect husband. Her beautiful, free-spirited sister turns up, capturing the attention of the husband and the couple's circle of friends and intensifying Richard's anguish. The film's ambiguities and off-center moods are intelligently realized, and the claustrophobia and psychosexual underpinnings evoke Polanski films of the 60s and 70s (Repulsion, The Tenant). But ultimately Barker's style drains the life from the film, making it feel like an academic exercise as it becomes increasingly inert, emotionally and dramatically. Richard and Sarah Adler, the impressive young Belgian actress who plays her sister, have some fine moments together--Richard's face can register a deep range of responses--but Barker doesn't give their characters the shape and complexity they deserve. (PM) (Water Tower upstairs, 3:15)

An Invited Guest

The festival seems to be offering several corny and implausible thrillers written and directed by African-American filmmakers this year (see Asunder); presumably there are plenty of available funds for this sort of hokum, and black male filmmakers are just as capable of providing it as their white male counterparts. Shot in Columbus, Ohio--though it might as well be New York or Los Angeles--An Invited Guest stars Mekhi Phifer as Silk, who contrary to the film's title shows up uninvited at the house of aspiring screenwriter Howard (Mel Jackson) while he's working on a script with his two partners. Howard's wife Debbie (Mari Morrow) has left in a huff because Howard forgot it was their anniversary; returning later, she finds Silk hustling everyone at poker. She's soon seduced by the mysterious stranger, and in a scene straight out of soft-core porn, Silk has his way with her on the kitchen counter. The adult-film ambience is heightened by the continuous wash of synth music, which begins to percolate at the slightest hint of danger. The plot contains so many unbelievable twists that after a while you lose count and sit back to enjoy the ride, as almost every character is revealed to be a scheming, duplicitous scumbag. (JK) (Water Tower upstairs, 3:15)

Lovers

Jean-Marc Barr's Lovers is a Dogma 95 film and therefore was made according to certain "naturalistic" rules: it was shot on location with a handheld camera, doesn't contain any music or sound effects added in postproduction, doesn't use special lights or filters. Yet there's no rule about realism in the script--two of the most famous Dogma 95 movies, Breaking the Waves and The Celebration, boast insanely convoluted baroque happenings at their centers. Which makes it even stranger that Barr should have chosen for his first film a bland-as-pabulum love story about a French girl (Elodie Bouchez) who works in a bookstore and a Yugoslavian painter (Sergei Trifumovic) in Paris without a visa, or that he should have chosen to have his actors speak English, which both do with sufficient clarity but without warmth or color. Barr--yet another actor turned director; he was in Breaking the Waves--seems to have no handle on this story. His camera lacks energy and perspective: it neither traces the mad arabesques of an amour fou nor records the restlessness of cohabitation; instead it seems content to listlessly follow the pedestrian characters in their desultory meanderings--on some principle of reality for reality's sake. This is a film of washed-out colors, washed-out action, and washed-out actors. Way before Dogma 95, Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey did this kind of direct take on life a hell of a lot better, even if they sometimes resorted to tripods. (RS) (Water Tower downstairs, 4:15)

Alone

Winner of the Panorama audience award at the Berlin film festival, Benito Zambrano's first feature follows a mother and her pregnant daughter who leave their village in southern Spain for the city. (Water Tower downstairs, 4:45)

Paths in the Night

German director Andreas Kleinert's Paths in the Night is a far more striking, magisterial work than In the Name of Innocence, his fest entry two years ago. Shot by Jürgen Jürges in stark, velvety black and white, Paths looks like the bleak, angst-ridden films Werner Herzog used to make and Hungarians still do--the hero's face is a landscape of pain that resembles the barren industrial wastelands to which he seems magnetically drawn. Walter was once powerful in some unspecified way--a get-together of former colleagues has an eerily familiar sinister aura, as if all ghosts of past German power, Nazi or Stasi, take on the same whispery creepiness--but he's now unemployed. His need to do something worthwhile, to serve order and a higher good, drives him to patrol the subways with a young punk kid and his sister--the children he never had--dispensing summary justice by siccing them on skinheads caught in the act of terrorizing others. The buildup to the tragic ending is magnificent, but it goes on a little too long, venturing into a jewelry-store heist that's generically unfocused. Kleinert has always been extraordinary with actors, and he gets a fine performance from Hilmar Thate as Walter. But Kleinert strikes his truest tragic note in the figure of Walter's wife (Cornelia Schmaus), the emotional fulcrum of the film, the luminous promise of life waiting for her husband just outside the arbitrary desolation of his mind. (RS) (Water Tower upstairs, 4:30)

New Dawn

The striking originality of New Dawn, Emilie Deleuze's auspicious debut film, lies in its depiction of work--we get to watch a bunch of men learn how to operate heavy machinery. There are few things seen less on-screen than what people do for a living--unless of course they're cops. Alain (Samuel Le Bihan) is no cop. At the film's opening he has what many would consider a dream job, as a video-games tester ("You get paid for that?" asks an awestruck young messenger). But Alain chucks his upscale high-tech position and heads to the unemployment office, where he enrolls in the most change-of-pace job conceivable--a 16-week bulldozer training program miles from the comforts of Paris. His wife and four-year-old daughter are understandably less than thrilled at his impulsive adoption of downward mobility. As his family drifts away, Alain, slightly ill at ease in the rowdy industrial boot camp, is pulled into an amazingly ambiguous quasi-big-brother, quasi-homosexual relationship with a belligerently touchy kid whose passionate knowledge of the types of digging engines is matched by his hopeless ineptitude at handling them. Deleuze filmed at an actual training site using many of its personnel and trainees, and the interactions between them and her stars subtly read as class and culture shock. New Dawn is extraordinary in depicting the complexity of class and gender myths surrounding work and the complexity of one man's emotional response to them. (RS) (Music Box, 4:45)

Theme: Murder

Martha Swetzoff's hour-long documentary is a troubling meditation on the emotional repercussions of her father's unsolved murder. A prominent art dealer in Boston during the 1950s and '60s, Hyman Swetzoff was beaten to death in his apartment by an assailant who was probably known to him. Hoping to find some answers to a mystery that has shadowed her for 30 years, Swetzoff sets out to interview her father's friends and acquaintances as well as detectives assigned to the case--and comes up with an increasingly unsettling series of revelations about her father's life. There are no emotional fireworks here, no cathartic TV newsmagazine resolutions. But it's precisely the growing sense of ambiguity and the painful realization that she may never find the emotional closure she hopes for that makes this such a haunting work. (RP) (Music Box, 5:15)

Treasure Island

Scott King uses several Chicago theater actors in this visually striking, formally ambitious first feature about spies trying to cripple Japan's intelligence operations during World War II. Two American cryptographers at a fictional San Francisco naval base are composing correspondence about the identity of a corpse, in an elaborate campaign intended to persuade the Japanese that they've uncovered valuable American intelligence. As a narrative, the film can be frustratingly opaque and peculiar--there's a succession of scenes that seem fundamentally at odds with one another and never quite coalesce into a coherent whole. But as a work of imagination it's impressive, showcasing King's inventive use of spatial and temporal rhythms and diagonal framing and evolving into a fascinating, trenchant portrait of the time and culture as it explores racism, xenophobia, aberrant sexuality, nationalism, and honor. The acting, especially by leads Lance Baker and Nick Offerman, is strong, unconventional, and deeply compelling. King shot the beautifully textured black-and-white images, which are wonderfully complemented by the editing and production design. Not a complete success, but this film's ambition puts a lot of American independent cinema to shame. (PM) (Water Tower upstairs, 5:15)

Sara Amerika

A story about four people in Berlin after the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, directed by Roland Suso Richter. (Water Tower upstairs, 6:00)

It All Starts Today

Bertrand Tavernier's unconventional, absorbing new feature laments our lack of social responsibility. Lean, mesmerizing Philippe Torreton (Captain Conan) is the charismatic director of an ambitious kindergarten in bleak northern France. He and his highly motivated staff work tirelessly to stimulate the children's curiosity, but their work is hampered by the parents' poverty, alcoholism, and physical and sexual abuse. Tavernier gives the children vivid, sharply delineated voices; working with a largely nonprofessional cast, he strips bare the characters' frailty but grants them a decency and honesty that redeems them despite the mounting hardships and tragedies. Unfortunately, the succession of verbal confrontations between the director and the traumatized community--parents, local politicians, ineffective social workers--threatens to reduce the film to a social policy primer, a problem alleviated somewhat by Torreton's electric performance. The standout cinematography is by the great Alain Choquart. (PM) (Water Tower downstairs, 6:45)

Loving Jezebel

See listing above under this date. (Water Tower upstairs, 7:00)

The Personals

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Music Box, 7:00)

Who Else if Not Us

This Russian feature directed by Valery Priemykhov is a good example of a mediocre foreign film that's worth seeing because of what it shows us about the country it's set in. Two Russian youths from the sticks loot a department store in Moscow and head back home on a raft; one of them gets caught and sent to prison for a year. The performances are variable, the lip sync is lousy, the story less than enthralling. I also didn't warm to the disco version of Albinoni heard on the sound track or the hokey use of slow motion. But the opening sequence, set in a huge and opulent shopping mall where the boys encounter a drag queen, made my jaw drop, giving me an image of Moscow that contradicted most of what I imagined about the place, and other details of contemporary Russian life kept me interested most of the way through. (JR) (Water Tower downstairs, 7:00)

Afraid of Everything

See listing above under this date. (Water Tower upstairs, 7:30)

American Hollow

Rory Kennedy is the youngest child of Robert Kennedy (she was getting married on the day of the fatal John Kennedy Jr. crash), and her compassionate, leftist documentaries are a testament to her father's final days. For American Hollow she spent months living in the ramshackle Appalachian homestead of her salt-of-the-earth protagonist, Iree Bowling, the 68-year-old matriarch of a sprawling hillbilly clan of 13 grown children and 30 grandchildren. They have no plumbing, little education, and little money; they drink and get sent to jail. But they have humor, fortitude, and family togetherness. If a Bowling gets in trouble, another Bowling will be there. It's a great story, told with feeling and humanity. In the finest episode a teenage Bowling falls madly in love with a local girl and plans to marry her. When she ditches him, his young mother gives him a shoulder to bawl on. (GP) (Music Box, 7:30)

Dreaming of Joseph Lees

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Water Tower upstairs, 8:45)

Night Shapes

The pope is coming to Berlin, and amid the traffic jams of pilgrims, three sets of characters try to find some happiness during one long night at the end of the millennium. Peschke, a middle-aged executive eclipsed by the young guns at his company, mistakes a young Angolan boy for a thief; eventually he discovers that the boy is mute and lost, and his attempts to locate the boy's friends lead him into an all-night odyssey. The other two stories are less successful but are aided by strong, nuanced performances. In one a lonely bumpkin hires a young, drug-addicted prosititute as his companion for a night on the town; apparently he's seen Pretty Woman too many times, and he tries to "save" her, but she's not interested. In the other Hanna and Victor are a homeless couple with some stolen money; they dream of spending the night in a luxury hotel but instead face prejudice and disillusionment. (LG) (Music Box, 9:15)

Set Me Free

The films of Montreal director Lea Pool (Straight Through the Heart, Movements of Desire) are strikingly personal essays that frequently explore the emotional consequences of female sexuality. Her courageous new film is clearly autobiographical, investigating her traumatic family life, her emerging sexuality, and her discovery of film while growing up in the early 60s. From its opening image--13-year-old Hanna (Karine Vanasse) submerged in a vast body of water--the movie captures the struggle and heartbreak of a young girl on the cusp of adulthood. Hanna's emotional and intellectual growth are stymied by a contentious home life: her father (Miki Manojlovic), a Polish Jew, is too busy revising a collection of poetry to keep his family fed and housed, and the never-ending economic crises have devastated Hanna's fragile mother (Pascale Bussieres), a French Catholic who must submerge her own ambition and artistry to work as a seamstress. Hanna derives her notions of power and pleasure from the cinema, turning repeatedly to Godard's My Life to Live (1962), with its radiant performance by Anna Karina. Pool has trouble adequately developing two prominent plotlines--Hanna's strong identification with her teacher (Nancy Huston) and her sexual attraction to a classmate (Charlotte Christeler)--and at one point seems to suggest a possible incestuous relationship between Hanna and her sympathetic, playful older brother (Alexandre Merineau), though she backs away from it. But Vanasse's intense, graceful, and unaffected performance carries the film over the rough spots; she confidently evokes Hanna's volatility and tension, her need for independence and personal expression balanced against a larger search for emotional solidity. (PM) (Water Tower downstairs, 9:15)

The Carriers Are Waiting

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Water Tower upstairs, 9:15)

Asunder

Obsession and deception are the principal themes explored in Tim Reid's hybrid thriller. Hybrid films can be intriguing if they successfully blend the conventions of different genres, but unfortunately Reid's attempts fall way short of the mark. Initially he seems to be trying to say something about coping with the sudden loss of a spouse, but then the film unravels into a mess of clumsy cliches and hokey plot twists. Chanoe Williams (Blair Underwood) is grieving for his pregnant wife, who was killed in a freak accident at an amusement park. He becomes increasingly fixated on the beautiful wife (Debbi Morgan) of his best friend (Michael Beach), but his motives never become clear, and what we know of his psychology is unconvincing. Lacking any discernible complexity and not particularly likable, Reid's characters don't generate much sympathy. (JK) (Water Tower upstairs, 9:30)

Lovers

See listing above under this date. (Water Tower downstairs, 9:30)

Lovers

See listing above. (Water Tower downstairs, 9:30)

Creature

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Music Box, 9:45)

Sunday 10 October

Animation Nations

Animated shorts from Ireland, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, the U.S., Canada, and Australia. (Music Box, 11:30 AM)

Sara Amerika

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Water Tower upstairs, 12:45)

The Town

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Water Tower downstairs, 1:15)

Belfast, Maine

The last, best, and longest (247 minutes) of the films I saw at the Locarno film festival this year, Frederick Wiseman's patient unpacking of a small town in Maine confirms the impression of his previous masterpiece, Public Housing: that the masterful documentarian of High School (1968) and Welfare (1975) has now become a masterful essayist. Or maybe he's been an essayist all along but has lately begun exercising his intelligence and organizing his documentary materials in increasingly subtle and nondidactic ways. What seems different and special about his recent work is its avoidance of easy theses. He picked as his subject this seaside community of 6,000 inhabitants, 99 percent of them white, because he lived a few miles away. He explains his approach as follows: "To document both change and continuity brought about by economic pressure on everyday life in Belfast, I examine its institutions and everyday practices. I also take a look at places where people interact: family life, commerce, public services, and public places." My favorite scene is a high school teacher's brilliant lecture on Moby-Dick that throws a great deal of light on everything else, but a lot of what I remember most vividly is the documentation of the daily work involved in preparing and packaging seafood--none of it boring to watch. This will eventually turn up on PBS, but a big screen gives it the monumentality and weight it deserves. (JR) (Music Box, 1:30)

American Hollow

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Music Box, 1:45)

Asunder

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Water Tower downstairs, 1:45)

Harmonium in My Memory

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Water Tower upstairs, 1:45)

Set Me Free

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Water Tower upstairs, 2:15)

After the Truth

In Roland Suso Richter's German feature, a Nazi functionary at Auschwitz, long believed dead, reappears, surrenders to the authorities, and--represented by a young, ambitious lawyer--tells his version of what happened. (Water Tower upstairs, 3:15)

It All Starts Today

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Water Tower downstairs, 3:15)

Creature

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Music Box, 4:00)

Juha

When I heard that Aki Kaurismaki--the Rainer Werner Fassbinder of Finland and the crowned prince of ascerbic camp and working-class melancholia--was making a silent black-and-white feature, the fourth version of Juhani Aho's 1911 novel, I expected something arch and postmodernist. Yet in spite of a few flashes of mordant humor, some wonderfully spare sound effects, and a few minimalist lighting schemes that suggest 50s Hollywood, this is a moving pastiche whose strength is its sincerity and authenticity rather than its taste for irony and anachronism. A fallen-woman story set in the present, featuring a farm couple and an evil playboy from the city who lures the wife away, it conveys the sort of purity and innocence associated with silent cinema storytelling, including a love of nature and animals, a taste for stark melodrama, and an emotional directness in the acting (Kaurismaki regular Kati Outinen is especially effective)--evocative at various times of Griffith in the teens and Murnau in the 20s. Accompanied by a live orchestra at the Berlin film festival, the film is now furnished with a music track featuring the same score and musicians that's essential to its power. No other film by Kaurismaki has affected me as much as this one, but if you don't love silent movies it may come across as a pointless exercise. (JR) (Water Tower upstairs, 4:00)

Loving Jezebel

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Water Tower upstairs, 4:15)

That's the Way I Like It

A 20-year-old Bruce Lee fan in 1977 Singapore who lives with his parents and works at a grocery store discovers disco when he sees a local spin-off of Saturday Night Fever. He sees the movie again and again, and is inspired to enter a dance contest with a childhood friend as his partner. Written and directed by Glen Goei. (Water Tower downstairs, 4:15)

An Invited Guest

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Water Tower upstairs, 6:00)

Minazuki

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Water Tower downstairs, 6:00)

Raise the Heart!

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Water Tower upstairs, 6:00)

The Love of Three Oranges

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Music Box, 6:00)

Moloch

Alexander Sokurov's other recent features--Stone, Whispering Pages, Mother and Son--have extremely aggressive styles and simple, often reactionary contents. Here the subject is a day in the life of Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler, at Hitler's mountain retreat in late spring 1942, and the film strives, with some success, to be believable, making it more than simply rhetorical or bombastic (despite the mythical opening in which a naked Braun, played by Elena Rufanova, dances and cavorts on the huge terraces of a fortress in the clouds--not quite Leni Riefenstahl, but suggestive of her manner). The script is by Sokurov's usual screenwriter, Yuri Arabov, and it was shot in Germany with theater actors from Saint Petersburg who were subsequently dubbed by Germans (including Eva Mattes as Eva Braun); the central characters also include Joseph and Magda Goebbels, Martin Bormann, and a priest. Sokurov's films usually project moods and emotions, but this one mainly provokes thoughts and reflections. Sokurov has noted that he used Braun largely as a distancing and demystifying lens for viewing Hitler: "I couldn't love him, and that's why I needed somebody [Eva] to love him. Otherwise it would have been impossible to discern him: you can't see anything black against a black background." (JR) (Water Tower upstairs, 6:15)

Alone

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Water Tower downstairs, 6:15)

An Evening With Ray Harryhausen

One of the festival's five tributes, and probably the only festival event designed for special-effects addicts. Born in 1920, Harryhausen was inspired by King Kong to develop stop-motion animation techniques that led first to work on George Pal's Puppetoon shorts and eventually, in the late 40s, to assisting Willis O'Brien on the effects of Mighty Joe Young; later came SF and fantasy films ranging from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers to Cy Endfield's Mysterious Island, as well as two features showing separately at this festival, Jason and the Argonauts and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. This program will include both clips and demonstrations. (JR) (Music Box, 7:00)

Big Wheels, Angels & Turtles: International Shorts

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Music Box, 8:15)

The Dream Catcher

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Water Tower upstairs, 8:15)

Night Shapes

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Water Tower upstairs, 8:30)

The Wisdom of Crocodiles

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Water Tower upstairs, 8:30)

Train of Life

Another Holocaust fable that, like Schindler's List and Life Is Beautiful, insists on moral uplift and historical evasion. Train of Life was filmed before Life Is Beautiful, and director and screenwriter Radu Mihaileanu had originally intended to cast Roberto Benigni in the crucial role of a village idiot in central Europe in 1941 who devises an ingenious plot to escape the wrath of the Nazis--building a fake deportation train. The humor here is woven more freely into the narrative than in Life Is Beautiful; the Jewish tailor responsible for fashioning the Nazi uniforms is particularly sharp and expressive. The best passages show Jewish life and culture--the music, daily rituals, and emotional rhythms, which have an understated beauty the balance of the film never captures--conveying a strong, convincing sense of what was lost. Shot in part by Yorgos Arvanitis, Theo Angelopoulos's great cinematographer, the film is far more visually accomplished than Life Is Beautiful, but it uses the same sort of emotional manipulation to turn the Holocaust into farce. (PM) (Water Tower downstairs, 8:30)

Lovers

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Water Tower downstairs, 8:45)

The Letter

This doesn't approach the achievement of Manoel de Oliveira's previous feature, Inquietude, the highlight of last year's festival and my favorite film of 1998. But the 34th film of Portugal's greatest filmmaker maintains his usual cool audacity, fearlessly courting absurdity at every turn. Now that he's in his early 90s--making him the only living filmmaker who worked before the coming of sound--you might say he's entitled to his dry conceptual wit; but this wasn't the position of the members of the American press at Cannes when The Letter won the jury prize, many of whom seemed scandalized. An adaptation of Madame de La Fayette's classic 1678 novel about court intrigue and unrequited love, La princesse de Cleves, transplanted into contemporary European high society and played out in designer clothes, it simply and brutally juxtaposes two eras 300 years apart to elicit not easy laughs but sustained, amused disbelief. The heroine, suffering stoically in a passionless arranged marriage, is not so much played as embodied by Chiara Mastroianni--whose mother (Catherine Deneuve) was cast in de Oliveira's The Convent and whose father (Marcello Mastroianni) was in his Journey to the Beginning of the World. Even less acted is the object of her concealed love and lust, the famous Portuguese pop singer Pedro Abrunhosa, imperturbably playing himself as an incongruous stand-in for the duke of Nemours. Most of the action is summarized in long intertitles, leaving de Oliveira free to ponder the imponderable with his usual aristocratic distance and patience. (JR) (Music Box, 9:00)

Monday 11 October

After the Truth

See listing under Sunday, October 10. (Water Tower upstairs, 3:30)

The Letter

See listing under Sunday, October 10. (Water Tower upstairs, 3:45)

Juha

See listing under Sunday, October 10. (Water Tower upstairs, 4:00)

New Dawn

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Water Tower downstairs, 4:00)

Who Else if Not Us

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Water Tower downstairs, 4:00)

Paths in the Night

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Water Tower upstairs, 6:00)

Sara Amerika

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Music Box, 6:00)

Train of Life

See listing under Sunday, October 10. (Water Tower upstairs, 6:00)

Who Else if Not Us

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Water Tower downstairs, 6:00)

In the Rye

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Water Tower upstairs, 6:15)

American Hollow

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Music Box, 6:15)

Minazuki

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Water Tower downstairs, 6:15)

The Town

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Water Tower upstairs, 6:15)

Asunder

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Water Tower upstairs, 8:15)

Under the Sun

A middle-aged male virgin advertises for a housekeeper, and a beautiful mysterious blond turns up; a Swedish feature directed by Colin Nutley. (Water Tower upstairs, 8:15)

Wait and See

Influential Japanese director Shinji Somai focuses his signature style of dispassionate long takes on a subject that has preoccupied much of recent Japanese cinema--the seismic effects of widespread economic recession on family life. On the surface nothing has changed--all the exquisitely apposite trappings of 80s affluence seem serenely in place. The young head of the household, whose success in the corporate world has allowed him to marry into money, has even added a quaintly eccentric touch: a couple of chickens in the backyard, a nod to his rustic roots perhaps, or maybe only something warm and living to counter the suburban sterility. He seems nice enough--loving and attentive to his child, polite to the point of blandness with his wife and mother-in-law. Into this life of careful civility comes his long-lost, presumed dead father, whose drunken earthiness alternately seduces (unlike his son the suit, this kimono-clad throwback is handy around the house) and appalls (he sneaks around to peep at the mother-in-law bathing). Unable to cope with this sudden intrusion from the past, the young man finds himself equally unequipped to deal with the future. The investment company for which he works is on the verge of bankruptcy, but old habits of corporate fealty keep him from taking his colleagues' advice and deserting the sinking ship. Somai is good at maintaining surface tension, and the very absence of immediate emotional release makes the film's unexpectedly upbeat finale really pay off. (RS) (Water Tower downstairs, 8:15)

Humanity

The most disputed and reviled of the prizewinners at Cannes, this brave, ambitious, difficult, and highly memorable second feature by regional French filmmaker Bruno Dumont, shot in his hometown (as was his previous The Life of Jesus), follows the police investigation of a rape and murder. The two-and-a-half-hour story sticks mainly to an oddball detective's assistant who lives with his mother and often hangs out with a neighbor he silently loves and her loutish boyfriend. Dumont clearly views this anguished sad sack as a Dostoyevskian hero, though the stylization of the character is sometimes more than he can handle--whatever Dumont is, he's no Tarkovsky, much less a Bresson, and a scene in which his hero levitates suggests he's no Pasolini either. Still, I was held and often moved by the mulish persistence of the slow pacing, the precise and sensuous grasp of the locations, and the brute physiognomy of some of the characters (especially the neighbor and the hero's boss), the like of which I've never seen in movies before. Critics have called this dull and ugly, the hero laughably pathetic (one even insists he's retarded), and the plot and style ridiculous--precisely my reaction to For Love of the Game and other slick Hollywood atrocities. I'd gladly see Humanity many more times, because it has a singular vision of the world, a great deal of conviction, and depths of feeling that are at times almost equal to its pretensions. (JR) (Music Box, 8:30)

Night Shapes

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Water Tower upstairs, 8:30)

From the Edge of the City

A skillful first feature written and directed by Constantinos Giannaris that displays a complicated understanding of cultural displacement and alienation. He trains his camera (some of the florid visual designs are too much) on a group of angry, rude, tough young Russians of Greek descent from the coast of the Black Sea who live in a forlorn, economically ravaged neighborhood in western Athens and, without judgment, follows them as they cruise, hang out, and engage in petty thefts. Acknowledging their camaraderie and shared deprivation, Giannaris shows how being outside the established order and communal solidarity of native-born Greeks has turned them into hustlers and criminals. The drama hangs on the developing consciousness of the smart, tactful leader Sasha, who realizes that their longing for escape and adventure is almost certainly a prelude to disaster. The material and themes may be familiar, but Giannaris's impressionistic, unsparing storytelling gives them a pungent, raw immediacy. (PM) (Water Tower downstairs, 8:45)

Theme: Murder

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

Tuesday 12 October

Under the Sun

See listing under Monday, October 11. (Water Tower upstairs, 3:30)

From the Edge of the City

See listing under Monday, October 11. (Water Tower downstairs, 3:45)

Moloch

See listing under Sunday, October 10. (Water Tower upstairs, 6:00)

Two Streams

See listing under Friday, October 8. (Water Tower downstairs, 6:00)

Set Me Free

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Water Tower upstairs, 6:15)

The Unspoken

A former resident of a psychiatric hospital encounters a scorned woman at an abandoned motel, and they negotiate an unspoken, intriguingly primitive relationship that's interrupted when his mother shows up with a minister and a mission: she intends to make sure her son fulfills a destiny suggested in flashbacks to his childhood, when her spiritual fervor both inspired and tormented him. Despite the expressive power of the cinematography (by Rob Sweeney, Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day), the rhapsodic art direction, and a rare restraint in the use of close-ups and point-of-view shots, this hollow parable suffers from archness. The ideas about fanaticism and maternal abuse overwhelm the symbolic imagery instead of being supported by it, leaving the story symbol heavy yet remarkably free of subtext. Director Frederick Marx (who produced and edited Hoop Dreams) wrote the screenplay with Steven Ivcich. With Sergei Shnirev, Martie Sanders, Harry Lennix, and Laura Hughes. (LA) (Music Box, 6:15)

Wait and See

See listing under Monday, October 11. (Water Tower downstairs, 6:15)

The Letter

See listing under Sunday, October 10. (Water Tower upstairs, 6:30)

Punitive Damage

A documentary from New Zealand by Annie Goldson about the current tragedy in East Timor as seen through the struggle of Helen Todd, mother of slain human rights activist Kamal Todd, against the Indonesian government and military officials responsible for her son's death. (Music Box, 7:15)

An Invited Guest

See listing under Saturday, October 9. (Water Tower upstairs, 8:15)

After the Truth

See listing under Sunday, October 10. (Water Tower upstairs, 8:30)

From the Edge of the City

See listing under Monday, October 11. (Water Tower downstairs, 8:30)

Not of This World

This is a film of muted colors--of grays and blues and beiges--and of equally muted emotions. There are no grand gestures or dramatic revelations, yet in its own understated way, Giuseppe Piccioni's Milanese character study shows how the possibility of change can hit you like a ton of bricks. A stunned jogger stumbles on a sweater-wrapped baby in a park, drops it into the arms of a passing nun, and scurries off, his part in any potential drama over. But for the nun, who's on the verge of taking her final vows, and for the man who owns the sweater, the commedia has just begun. An odd friendship develops between the nun, whose fierce attachment to someone else's baby puts her vocation in question, and the putative father, an uptight owner of a dry-cleaning shop who can't even remember the names of the handful of girls who work for him. But this isn't a couple film. There's the story of the baby's mother, and of her ex-boyfriend the cop, and her new job in a restaurant, and her fellow waiters and waitresses, and the diners in the restaurant, etc, etc. Scattered through the free-form interactions are time-arresting group poses--of nuns, workers, friends, families--that put main characters, secondary characters, incidental characters, and even total strangers in temporary social clusters that chart the film's curiously collectivistic journey. It's a trip worth taking. (RS) (Water Tower upstairs, 8:45)

Post Mortem

In this first feature by Louis Belanger, Linda is leading a double life: by day she's a loving mother to her five-year-old daughter Charlotte, and by night she's a thief, preying on wealthy men willing to have sex with her. Ghislain is a lonely middle-aged man who works in a morgue; through the strangest of circumstances, his path crosses Linda's and he has the opportunity, in a manner of speaking, to save her life. Belanger seems in part to be working the same territory as Claude Chabrol, but while Belanger is adept at portraying some of the sinister forces behind the human condition, he doesn't have the mastery to do this material justice. For this drama to engage the viewer, there has to be some sympathy for Ghislain, and while Gabriel Arcand's understated performance is fascinatingly creepy, he isn't very engaging. There's only a slight frisson generated late in the story between Ghislain and Charlotte, and while this isn't really the point of the film, more of this relationship would have helped make things interesting. (JK) (Water Tower downstairs, 8:45)

Juha

See listing under Sunday, October 10. (Water Tower upstairs, 9:00)

Public Enemy

The lives of four former Black Panther members are examined in this French-produced documentary directed by Jens Meurer. Poet and teacher Jamal Joseph, professor Kathleen Cleaver, musician Nile Rodgers, and Black Panther cofounder Bobby Seale reminisce about their involvement with the movement in the 1960s and reflect on how their lives have changed since. The four are also shown at work on current projects, as well as educating the public about the history of the Panthers. While pieces of this material are interesting, the film never really digs into some of the more compelling issues raised by its subjects. Rodgers, now an extrmely wealthy record producer, worries about having sold out; Joseph, the most insightful and astute interviewee, asks the central question that seems to haunt all four participants: "Was it worth it?" The film is so enamored of its subjects it opts for just fuzzy nostalgia. Viewers who have some historical background in the Black Panthers might enjoy the film, but those seeking a good introduction or deeper insight into the movement should probably look elsewhere. (RP) (Music Box, 9:15)

Wednesday 13 October

Lea's Story

A single mother (Vilma Santos) who works at a women's crisis center and has been abandoned by the fathers of both her kids finds romance, only to be threatened by charges of neglect when the fathers return. Chito S. Rono directed this Filipino feature. (Water Tower downstairs, 3:00)

Post Mortem

See listing under Tuesday, October 12. (Water Tower downstairs, 3:15)

Not of This World

See listing under Tuesday, October 12. (Water Tower upstairs, 3:45)

The Criminal of Barrio Concepcion

Shot on a shoestring by first-time director Lav Diaz, The Criminal of Barrio Concepcion focuses on lowly, devoted farmhand Serafin Geronimo (Raymond Bagatsing in a concentrated performance), a feverish Raskolnikov in this Filipino adaptation of Crime and Punishment. After a popular journalist is butchered--one in a series of murders--another investigative reporter (Angel Aquino) discovers the shell-shocked Serafin and eventually draws out his painful story. Each act of this rigorously structured film is marked by a radical shift in genre and tone: it begins as realist muckraking journalism, excoriating businessmen and politicians for human-rights violations, then plunges into noir territory as the guilt-ridden Serafin describes a kidnapping gone wrong. Eventually it becomes teary melodrama--par for the course for a Filipino production--when the tables are turned on the ultraconfident journalist. Diaz's unobtrusive camera style is likely a function of the budget (one camera broke on the first day of shooting and was never replaced), but he uses his minimal means to maximum effect. (MP) (Water Tower downstairs, 5:30)

Kazoku Cinema

Loosely based on the best-selling novel by Korean-Japanese author Yu Miri, this film tells the story of a whacked-out Korean family who with some trepidation allow a film crew to shoot their everyday lives for the purpose of making a fictionalized documentary. Familial tensions wreak havoc on the production from the outset. The parents haven't been together for years, can't stand the sight of each other, and immediately slip back into their acrid quarreling. Daughter Yoko works as a porn actress and her brother, Kazuki, apparently suffers from autism. Outbursts from family members constantly disrupt the proceedings, until it becomes difficult to distinguish scripted dialogue from cacophonous improvisation. This is another example of the edgy, confessional cinema that's been gushing forth from the East lately, especially Taiwan, Hong Kong, mainland China, and both North and South Korea. Director Park Chul-soo generates both comedy and drama from the improbability of capturing reality on film, recalling both the infamous PBS documentary on the Loud family from the early 70s and Albert Brooks's excellent Real Life. (JK) (Water Tower upstairs, 6:00)

Boys Don't Cry

The true story of Teena Marie Brandon, a young woman from Lincoln, Nebraska, who inverted her name--to Brandon Teena--and her sexual identity. Dressing as a boy, she moves to a conservative small town and falls in with a group of local losers; among them is the sweet, lonely Lana (Chloe Sevigny, excellent as always) with whom Brandon has a tender sexual affair. Crisply directed by first-time feature filmmaker Kimberly Peirce, Boys Don't Cry also reflects the politically savvy, stylistically adventurous personality of its producer, Christine Vachon (Poison, Happiness). As Brandon, Hilary Swank (of Beverly Hills 90210) is an effectively ambiguous presence, with some of the scrubbed naivete of a Disney protagonist. Ultimately, social defiance leads to tragedy, in a violent conclusion that makes martyrs of much of the cast. (DK) (Water Tower upstairs, 6:00)

Public Enemy

See listing under Tuesday, October 12. (Music Box, 6:00)

Wait and See

See listing under Monday, October 11. (Water Tower downstairs, 6:00)

Under the Sun

See listing under Monday, October 11. (Water Tower upstairs, 6:30)

The Third Page

A hard-luck story from Turkey--the description makes it sound like a comedy--about a TV extra who gets mugged. Zeki Demirkubuz directed. (Music Box, 6:45)

Lea's Story

See listing above under this date. (Water Tower downstairs, 8:15)

Love Will Tear Us Apart

The first feature of cinematographer Yu Lik-wai is a sharply etched portrait of the desperation and longing of four immigrant outsiders adjusting to the rapidly changing culture of contemporary Hong Kong following the end of British rule. As storytelling the movie is choppy and fragmented, but as a succession of images yielding a very specific time and place, it's potent and compelling. Ah Ying has drifted into petty crime and prostitution. Ah Jian--who's involved in an unsatisfying relationship with Ah Yan, a young woman whose promising dance career was halted by recurring foot injuries--operates a porn shop frequented by Ah Chun, a morose loner. Their stories never merge into a deeper, fluid whole, but the social context is admirably developed--Lik-wai's Hong Kong is harsh and bleak, a place ruled by a Darwinian social order that treats the displaced and marginalized brutally. The artificial brightness of a 7-Eleven and understated, ominous images of porn-district squalor underline the characters' fears, desires, and frustrations in a world with no easy resolutions. (PM) (Water Tower downstairs, 8:30)

My Little Business

The title refers to a journeyman woodworking shop that's been in the hero's family for years. So when it goes up in flames early in the film it seems that not only are the hero's finances at stake but a whole way of life. He's insured--or he should be, except that his agent, a good buddy, also happens to be a crook. But with a little help from his friends he can break into the insurance company and retroactively register his policy. In this well-paced comic caper movie, veteran director Pierre Jolivet stacks the deck with the skill of a Reno dealer. The hero is a regular guy who not only eats, drinks, and jokes with his workers, but even manages to stay friends with his ex-wife and her live-in Arab boyfriend. The embezzling villain turns out to be an orphan in search of his Russian roots. The crime is victimless--who can consider an insurance company a victim? The actors are superb--funny, believable, and capable of turning any line into a seemingly spontaneous eruption of Gallic eccentricity. But there's nothing spontaneous in making a self-congratulatorily craftsmanlike French indie version of a male-bonding Hollywood action flick. The means of production may be different, but the macho mentality is the same. It only proves that whether they're Americans earnestly blowing away bad guys or French suavely seducing their homely secretaries into taking the fall, boys will be boys. (RS) (Water Tower upstairs, 8:30)

Wild Side: The Director's Cut

Three years before committing suicide, Donald Cammell, codirector of Performance, lost control over the editing of this 1994 feature about sexual experimentation, loyalty, and betrayal. Editor Frank Mazzola has put Cammell's version together again, adding footage and altering practically every sequence. The cast includes Joan Chen, Anne Heche, and Christopher Walken. On the same program, The Argument, a recently discovered 1971 short film by Cammell about the nature of filmmaking, shot by Vilmos Zsigmond. (Music Box, 8:30)

Fly Low

It sounds like a good idea for a movie: intercutting two separate stories centering on the same location. In one story, three male youths who've escaped from an orphanage hide from the authorities in an abandoned schoolhouse; in the other, three young women who once attended the school make a sentimental journey there. Like many South Korean films, Kim Sion's feature is attractively filmed in vibrant colors--a direct or indirect legacy of the Technicolor equipment purchased long ago from this country, the kind that's no longer used here--and for the most part the two stories unfold in markedly different photographic styles. Unfortunately, neither story is very interesting or compelling apart from its visual treatment, and when one character from each story meets the other at the schoolhouse in a brief epilogue, the effect is mainly gratuitous. (JR) (Music Box, 8:45)

Moloch

See listing under Sunday, October 10. (Water Tower upstairs, 8:45)

Valerie Flake

Valerie (Susan Traylor) is still reeling from the death of her husband, though her family thinks she ought to be over it by now. Once a painter with an academic position, she's started working in an LA grocery store, where she declines a promotion. After driving her husband's old VW bus to Palm Springs, she meets Tim (Jay Underwood), who's desperate to become more than a one-night stand. This darkly comic, exceptionally moving character study has drama, revelation, and expertly drawn secondary characters, but its power comes from Traylor's fearless, idiosyncratic performance and a deeply expressionist production design that makes nearly every object as evocative as the desert landscape where Valerie tries to paint again. John Putch directed a screenplay by Robert Tilem; with songs by Kathleen Wilhoite. (LA) (Water Tower upstairs, 9:00)

Thursday 14 October

Yesterday Children

Roman Catholicism and traditional animistic beliefs clash in this well-intentioned social drama from the Philippines, set in a remote village during a prolonged drought. Not surprisingly, the natural disaster brings to the surface a variety of prejudices and reveals the community's hierarchy of values pertaining to God, man, and nature: a few villagers seek solace in prayer, but the majority believe that only a sacrificial virgin can appease the angry gods. Caught in the middle are the village's children, especially the blind girl and bastard boy subjected to the stern dictates of superstitious adults. Director Carlos Siguion-Reyna has a keen eye for psychological detail as well as the spiritual complexity of life in a rural community. He takes no sides in the religious tug-of-war, revealing both the moral shortcomings of the church and the animists' vicious cycle of misogyny. The linear narrative can be fairly predictable but fails to diminish the clarity of Siguion-Reyna's social observation. (ZB) (Water Tower upstairs, 4:00)

My Little Business

See listing under Wednesday, October 13. (Water Tower upstairs, 4:15)

Valerie Flake

See listing under Wednesday, October 13. (Water Tower downstairs, 4:15)

Lea's Story

See listing under Wednesday, October 13. (Water Tower upstairs, 6:00)

Pups

This low-budget American movie about kids with guns is nothing if not topical: it premiered at the LA independent film festival two days before the Columbine shootings. A disaffected 13-year-old (Cameron Van Hoy), bored with videotaping his suicide attempts, robs a bank with his girlfriend because he finds a gun. Director Ash seems fascinated by the sudden ascent to power and visibility of those who were formerly impotent and invisible (his previous film, Bang, concerned a knocked-around starlet who gets a taste of power when she dons a cop's stolen uniform). The kids come off fairly well. The boy's shrill role-playing reflects both his pubescent self-consciousness and his uncertainty about his place in society, an uncertainty further fueled by watching his life unfold on TV through old home-movie footage and interviews with his friends and neighbors. The girl (Mischa Barton of Lawn Dogs and The Sixth Sense) is more graceful in her startling mood transitions, as befits her more passive, less alienated role. But the adults, hostages in interminable interaction with the kids and one another, are god-awful, their characters poorly written and indifferently acted (though Burt Reynolds does a decent if boring star turn as a caring FBI agent). The waste this represents is brought home in the one adult-kid interaction that does work--a long, fascinating interview session between sardonic MTV host Kurt Loder (playing himself) and the pint-size Bonnie and Clyde wannabes as they try to put their inchoate desires into words. (RS) (Water Tower downstairs, 6:00)

The Past

Ivo Trajkov's feature from the Czech Republic focuses on a man trying to flee his past. (Water Tower downstairs, 6:00)

Punitive Damage

See listing under Tuesday, October 12. (Water Tower upstairs, 6:15)

Conversations With Gregory Peck

The world premiere of a documentary by Barbara Kopple (Harlan County, U.S.A., Wild Man Blues) about the movie star, now in his 80s, telling stories about his career and hanging out with his friends and family. Peck will be present to receive the festival's Lifetime Achievement Award. (Music Box, 6:30)

Post Mortem

See listing under Tuesday, October 12. (Water Tower downstairs, 6:30)

Yana's Friends

More than a million Soviet Jews have emigrated to Israel during the past decade, but integrating into Israeli society hasn't been easy for them. Several good contemporary Israeli fiction films, among them Coffee With Lemon and The Distance, have poignantly addressed the problems faced by these immigrants, but Yana's Friends isn't among them. Written and directed by Arik Kaplun, himself a Russian emigre, this overly contrived and broadly comic film focuses on a group of immigrants in a Tel Aviv neighborhood during the gulf war. Yana (played by Kaplun's wife, Evlyn) is a melancholy blond with a heart-melting smile who's left pregnant and in debt when her scheming husband absconds to Russia with their immigration grant money. Her vulnerability and waiflike good looks arouse the protective and other instincts of her womanizing neighbor Eli. Yana's story is intercut and gradually connected with that of another newly arrived couple, vulgar strivers who exploit their wheelchair-bound war-hero grandfather by parking him, hat in hand, next to a street musician. Yana and Eli's response to gas masks and sealed rooms may inspire a few laughs, but this sex-and-death territory too was covered better in other films. (AS) (Water Tower upstairs, 6:30)

Fly Low

See listing under Wednesday, October 13. (Music Box, 7:00)

Humanity

See listing under Monday, October 11. (Water Tower upstairs, 8:00)

Ratcatcher

This highly impressive debut feature by Scottish director Lynne Ramsay extends the visual acuity and emotional power of her astonishing shorts Small Deaths and Gasman, which were prizewinners at Cannes. Seeking refuge from his stultifying home life, 12-year-old James Gillespie (William Eadie) searches for adventure at a nearby canal, where he befriends Margaret Anne (Leanne Mullen), an emotionally vulnerable, sexually exploited 14-year-old. Their ensuing relationship is understated yet emotionally truthful, exploring the full range of their alternately frightened and exhilarated interior lives. Sometimes Ramsay relies too heavily on metaphor (the mounting garbage surrounding their economically ravaged community) to balance out her work, and the children's bleak home lives are too recognizable from the films of Alan Clarke and Mike Leigh. But the film becomes almost abstractly beautiful in its final half hour (the tracking shot that follows James as he runs along the banks is breathtaking). With its fluent images and sensitivity to mood, Ratcatcher signals the start of a promising career. (PM) (Water Tower downstairs, 8:30)

The Third Page

See listing under Wednesday, October 13. (Water Tower upstairs, 8:30)

People Who Love Each Other

Jean-Charles Tacchella (Traveling Avant, Cousin, cousine) directed this romantic comedy in which a radio announcer (Richard Berry) narrates the story of his on-again, off-again relationship with a woman (Jacqueline Bisset) over three decades. (Water Tower downstairs, 8:45)

The Unspoken

See listing under Tuesday, October 12. (Water Tower upstairs, 8:45)

Bounce

Based on the real-life experience of coproducer and costar Walter Velasquez, Bounce is a gritty low-budget indie dealing with life in the South Bronx. Director Adam Watstein met Velasquez while both were working at a children's after-school sports program; the project was sparked when Walter's best friend (played in the film by Jamal Mackey) was gunned down shortly after the two had secured a recording deal. Shot over the course of a year--four shoots over four seasons--using a skeleton crew and a nonprofessional cast, Watstein's film is amiably unvarnished. Some of the acting is uneven, but Watstein gets several arresting performances from his cast, notably Velasquez and Mackey. Using a methodology reminiscent of Cassavetes, Watstein initially withheld his script from the cast during rehearsals, insisting that they articulate a given scene in their own words before introducing the dialogue he'd written. The effort has paid off: Bounce is much more successful than most other films that deal with daily life in the projects. (JK) (Music Box, 9:15)

Burlesk King

Mel Chionglo's Filipino feature focuses on the hard life and troubled past of a "macho dancer" in Manila, the son of an American soldier. (Music Box, 9:30)

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