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Friday October 19

*Evenings

A young man comes of age in Amsterdam in this adaptation of a Gerard Reve novel. A review appears in last week's issue under Wednesday, October 17. (Fine Arts, 4:00)

*After the Storm

Beautiful and tragic, this story of the effects of economic dislocation on a working-class Argentinean family manages to avoid the problems (didacticism, dullness, cheerleading) that plague most social-problem films. If anything, the director (Tristan Bauer, whose first feature film this is) succumbs a bit too much to unmotivated aestheticism (lingering shots whose picturesque composition is their chief virtue, for example). The story--which centers on the self-questioning forced upon 45-year-old Ramon as his factory shuts down, the family moves to a shantytown, and his son is hauled off to jail--is simply told, beautifully photographed, and affectingly acted. Most of us are probably only peripherally conscious of the mounting hardship and chaos afflicting much of the third world over the past few years--the product of debt crisis and U.S.-backed austerity programs. This film can serve as an educator in that respect, but it can also be appreciated as good filmmaking. (JS) (Fine Arts, 4:30)

*Secret Love, Hidden Faces

Also known as Ju Dou, this second feature by Red Sorghum's Zhang Yi-mou--perhaps the best-known "Fifth Generation" director from the People's Republic of China, also known as an actor (Old Well) and cinematographer (Yellow Earth, The Big Parade)--is being touted as one of the first Chinese-Japanese coproductions. (It was financed for about $2 million by Tokuma Enterprises, which provided the film, camera equipment, and lab work, but the shooting and editing was all done in China, and the technical polish resulting from this teamwork is remarkable.) At the outset at least, the plot bears a certain similarity to Red Sorghum: both stories begin in the 1920s with the sale of a beautiful young bride to an unpleasant and wealthy older man. But in fact Secret Love, Hidden Faces is a more complex and daring film, with a much more compelling plot and an even more impressive and creative employment of color. The bride in question (Gong Li) is purchased by a bitter, impotent sadist (Li Wei) who runs a dye factory in northwest China. His nephew (Li Baotian) becomes sympathetic to her plight, and eventually the two of them begin a passionate affair, which leads to her becoming pregnant; a son is born, and local protocol requires that the factory owner pretend to be the father. Some have hailed this film as a Chinese version of The Postman Always Rings Twice, but this is pure ethnocentric laziness on the part of Yankee critics (entirely in keeping with the film's execrable subtitles, which contain such absurdities as "Make my day" and "What goes around, comes around"), who seem to be saying that the Chinese have to be exactly like us before they can become worthy of our attention. Stylistically, the most remarkable thing about the film--apart from the extraordinarily creative and unexpected uses of color and lap dissolves--is how differently the adult figures and the couple's little boy function in the story: while the former are basically realistic, the latter functions almost exclusively on a mythic level, as a "return of the repressed" from China's dark and inflexible feudal past. Zhang color codes the heroine's wardrobe to reflect moods that define the story's overall structure, and his dramatic and decorative uses of the dyes and fabrics in the factory are often ravishing. But the strongest lingering effect of this beautiful and haunting film is its historical pessimism, its expression of how difficult it is for China to rid itself of feudalism. (JR) (Fine Arts, 6:30)

Story of Boys and Girls

Pupi Avati's Italian feature, set in 1936, concerns the engagement party of a boy from Bologna and a girl from the countryside, held in her family's home with 30 people in attendance--a 20-course meal designed to get the two families acquainted. With Felice Andreasi, Angiola Baggi, and Davide Bechini. (Music Box, 7:00)

Men of Respect

Rod Steiger, John Turturro, and Dennis Farina star in William Reilly's Mafia thriller with a New York setting and a Macbeth-like plot. (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Small Time

A film about the brutal life of a black man directed by Chicagoan Norman Loftis, winner of first prize at this year's Taormina Festival of American Independent Cinema. (Fine Arts, 9:00)

Miss Sadie Thompson

Rain has been made and remade since the silent days, a vehicle for both Gloria Swanson and Joan Crawford. This time Rita Hayworth plays the prostitute stranded in Pago Pago who is "redeemed" and then raped by a minister. The Reverend Davidson becomes Mr. Davidson, a missionary official rather than a man of the cloth, thereby offending no one but the intelligent. Curtis Bernhardt's direction does nothing to make Harry Kleiner's script seem less pedestrian--which leaves Hayworth the only reason to see the film. Her Sadie Thompson is breezy and fun, but one counts the minutes between musical numbers. Her singing is dubbed as usual, and the songs are second-rate (though "Blue Pacific Blues" was nominated for an Oscar for some unknown reason), but Hayworth delivers nonetheless. Her body is obviously "mature," but when she dances it's still a miracle of movement: "The Heat Is On" is steamy and erotic. Jose Ferrer plays the missionary as if he were Jose Ferrer; Aldo Ray plays the marine as if he were butch. The film's 3-D neither helps nor hinders (1953). (DO) (Music Box, 9:30)

Too Much Sun

A new comedy by Robert Downey Sr. (Greaser's Palace) about a brother and sister (Eric Idle and Andrea Martin), both gay, who have to produce offspring in order to collect an inheritance, thereby diverting it from a conniving priest (Jim Haynie). It's amazing how little Downey has advanced since his flaky satires of the 60s; this vulgar set of good-natured, adolescent gibes at gays and Catholics never moves beyond feeble one-liners and labored crosscutting, and not even the use of a couple of Thelonious Monk tunes on the sound track livens things up. Set in LA; with Robert Downey Jr. (JR) (Fine Arts, 9:30)

You Elvis, Me Monroe

Lothar Lambert remains one of the most energetic and original directors now working in Berlin. For the most part his work is nonscripted: he gives his actors the idea of a scene and they improvise. He shoots fast, in 16-millimeter, with unsynchronized sound and a wind-driven camera--so the shots are short and the actor speaking is not the one on-screen--making for a nervous, vigorous style. Taken as a whole, his films are a finely detailed portrait of Berlin. Lambert has no fear of vulgarity or odd sexuality. His deep contempt for "respectable" values is tempered with a highly developed sense of the absurd. You Elvis, Me Monroe--about a virile young Arab worker who lives in a ground-floor Berlin apartment without curtains and with nosy neighbors--is fresh, disturbing, moving, and hilarious. A bit less freewheeling than the rest of his work (except for the stilted Paso Doble, which was made in 35-millimeter with a script and a commercial producer and is Lambert's least favorite of his films), You Elvis, Me Monroe is in color (instead of the usual black and white) and has what appears to be a script finished preproduction. None of that hurts, however, since Lambert is fully involved in his subject--part of the footage was shot from his apartment window. (DO) (Fine Arts, 11:00)

Man in the Dark

When a convict (Edmond O'Brien) undergoes brain surgery, he loses his memory--a matter of some concern to his old gang, who want to know where he stashed their loot. An unmemorable 1953 remake in 3-D of The Man Who Lived Twice. Directed by Lew Landers; with Audrey Totter and Ted de Corsia. (JR) (Music Box, 11:30)

Saturday October 20

Award-Winning Documentaries: Social/Political

Joel L. Freedman's To Protect Mother Earth, Brian Beker's Lines of Fire, Arthur Dong's Forbidden City, and Elise Fried's Do You Take This Man: Pakistani Arranged Marriages. (Fine Arts, noon)

The Last Stop

An insignificant 77-minute Soviet movie by Serik Aprimov that's dramatically inert and visually dull. Set in Aksuat, a small, isolated village on the Kazakh plains, the movie feels hollow, with a simplistic story line and colors that have been drained of life. The protagonist returns following his stint in the army to discover his girlfriend has married and his friends have drifted into lives of passive, drunken ruin. The oppressive landscape and inhuman working conditions put everyone on edge, and beneath the surface runs a silent anarchy: weddings are interrupted by gunfights and knifings. The movie seems to value the simplicity and purity of daily life, but the story has no direction other than the obvious. Stylistically there's no energy, and director Aprimov refuses to experiment after the opening shot, a dissolve from a sepia-toned photo to disorienting colors. Every once in a while something will catch your eye, like a vast, wide-screen view held in long shot, but before it registers the movie jerks through an awkward transition. Reportedly the townspeople are angry at the way Aprimov, a native of the village, portrayed them, but it's hard to imagine why considering the absence of a political or social context. (PZM) (Fine Arts, 1:00)

Christo in Paris and Diego Rivera: I Paint What I See

Two hour-long U.S. documentaries. Christo in Paris, directed by David and Albert Maysles, Deborah Dickson, and Susan Froemke, focuses on the contemporary environmental artist Christo, his wife Jeanne-Claude, and his long-term dream to "wrap" the Seine's Pont Neuf. Mary Lance's Diego Rivera: I Paint What I See is a prizewinning portrait of the late Mexican painter and muralist. (Music Box, 2:00)

Takeshi: Childhood Days

Japanese filmmaker Masahiro Shinoda, whose 1984 film MacArthur's Children dealt with the lives of Japanese children just after World War II, focuses his attention this time on a group of schoolchildren during the final year of the war. Set in the coastal town of Toyama, the story centers around the arrival of a young boy from Tokyo sent there as part of the government's evacuation program during the American bombing. Smart and well mannered, the boy is immediately the focus of curiosity and resentment by his classmates, who are left pretty much unsupervised, and the bullying and abusive class captain does what he can to force the boy to submit to his will. Though the city boy versus country boy story line is pretty standard fare, Shinoda's rather grim view of human society makes this an interesting examination of the cruelty that children can inflict on one another when they try to create their own society--a theme reminiscent of Lord of the Flies. Not strikingly original perhaps, but well crafted and enjoyable nonetheless. (RP) (Fine Arts, 3:00)

*The Governor's Ball

There's nothing particularly subtle about the visual symbolism in this French-language drama, written and directed by Marie-France Pisier; virtually the first thing the audience sees is a slow tracking shot up a phallic white lighthouse--a vain flourish of French male authority over women, children, and the natives of New Caledonia, where this story of sexual and political awakening is set. The time is 1957, the eve of the tropical land's "upgrading" from colony to territory; that change of status, more illusory than real, parallels the tenuous distinction between childhood and adulthood in Pisier's story of a pretty young woman and her adolescent daughter. Each woman is caught in an emotional tempest over her secret infatuation with a forbidden beloved. The mother, wife of the lieutenant governor, hungers after a handsome, rebellious young doctor; the daughter pines for her slightly more mature female schoolmate. Scandal and heartbreak are in the offing; so is a labor strike, a warm-up for the political and racial unrest soon to break the back of French colonialism. It all comes to a head, naturally, at the rite-of-passage celebration that gives the film its title. Adding warmth to this ironic study, adapted by Pisier from her own novel, is a collection of emotionally expressive female performances (not surprising, given Pisier's work as an actress in such films as Cousin, Cousine and Celine and Julie Go Boating) by beautiful Kristin Scott-Thomas as the mother, Vanessa Wagner as the daughter, and Edwige Navarro as the daughter's beloved. (AW) (Fine Arts, 4:00)

Thousand Pieces of Gold

The first feature of documentary filmmaker Nancy Kelly, based on a true story, is about a young Chinese woman sold into slavery by her destitute father in northern China, auctioned off in San Francisco, and bought by a mule skinner for a saloon keeper in the northern Rockies, where she begins to fight for her independence. With Rosalind Chao, Chris Cooper, and Dennis Dun. (Music Box, 5:00)

300 Miles to Heaven

An unexpected winner of a European Felix prize last year, Polish-made 300 Miles to Heaven is an example of taut, no-nonsense cinematic story telling. Based on a real event that happened a few years ago, Maciej Dejczer's first feature follows the story of two teenage brothers who attempted to flee Poland hidden under a truck. Their escape had as much to do with a quest for adventure as with a well-thought-out desire to go abroad in order to alleviate their parents' economic burden. The film's lively action contrasts with its overall tone: employing a palette of dark hues, Dejczer paints a bleak picture of life in small-town Poland, conveying in particular a pervasive mood of hopelessness as far as the future of the country is concerned. Most of the scenes in 300 Miles to Heaven are presented from the viewpoint of the boys, allowing the director to focus narrowly on the gritty determination of the pair. But the political and emotional elements do hover continually in the background, giving the film the added dimension of portraying the quiet desperation of thousands of Poles of all ages who have left their homeland in recent years in search of a better future. (ZB) (Fine Arts, 5:00)

Diary for My Father and Mother

The final installment of a trilogy by Hungarian director Marta Meszaros, following Diary for All My Children (1982) and Diary for My Loves (1986), this film is actually a compendium of newsreel, memory, and fiction. Considering its volatile subject matter--the aftermath of the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary--the film is strangely respectable and composed; perhaps Meszaros was after anthropological detachment. Juli Kovacs (Zsuzsa Czinkoczi), a filmmaker and recent graduate of the film academy in Moscow, is trapped inside the Soviet Union and denied traveling privileges until the conclusion of the invasion. We see the events from Juli's perspective, through her photographs and recollections. This potentially fascinating conceit isn't taken far enough, as if Meszaros were truly frightened of the implications. The movie comes to life intermittently--especially in the final third, when Juli and her outlawed socialist friends throw a wild party in costume and whiteface--but it's dead at the center, with no dramatic focus or thematic unity. The most striking achievement is the repeated startling switches from black and white to color, forcing abrupt shifts in the narrative. And the best ideas are taken from other movies: the invasion is evoked in the manner of Philip Kaufman's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, newsreel footage juxtaposed with fiction. The first parts of the trilogy won some prestigious awards from Cannes and Berlin, but here the ideas seem to have deserted Meszaros. She's forced to repeat herself, to less interesting effect. (PZM) (Fine Arts, 6:30)

Miss Missouri

Of all the recent films set in Chicago, it's one created by a Frenchman, set in the seedy area around Wabash and Roosevelt, that is the most interesting contemporary portrait. But this fifth feature by Elie Chouraqui is flawed, and the farther it moves from Chicago the less interesting it becomes. Chouraqui was an assistant to the mediocre Claude Lelouch, and they share a painfully awkward penchant for sentimentality. Shot in 70-millimeter by the talented cameraman Flore Thulliez and featuring an attractive blues score by Michel Jonasz, the story plays like part jigsaw puzzle, part road movie. Richard Anconina stars as Nathan, a Parisian journalist who turns up in Chicago to find Helen, an American with whom he had a brief, intense affair. Knowing almost nothing about her, Nathan follows a maze of false leads, insinuating himself into Helen's family, friends, and former lovers. The movie is shot in soft focus, giving the city an empty postcard beauty. The colors run together, and the images are so fragile they literally dissolve in front of you. What could have been a fairly invigorating and updated reimagining of an immigrant in America gets lost in the expansiveness of the midwestern landscape. What's more, Chouraqui's unfamiliarity with English leads to some unnatural dialogue. In order for the material to work, you have to believe in the attraction and power of Helen, something you're never convinced of. A few good ideas come through, like the French idolatry of black culture and music, but the direction is torpid and the performances languid. (PZM) (Music Box, 7:00)

*Vincent and Theo

Robert Altman's account of the relationship between Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo is an uncharacteristically somber film that wisely avoids the overbearing sentimentality that can plague film biographies. The impetuous Vincent (played with an eerie intensity by Tim Roth) constantly barrages his brother with demands for financial support. Theo (Paul Rhys), who is struggling to gain respect as an art dealer, does what he can to help his obsessive and often reckless brother by introducing him to other painters and persuading the gallery he works at to display Vincent's work. Theo's attempts to become a successful and respected member of society are undone not so much by Vincent as by his own obsessions and inner demons, made worse by an ongoing bout with syphilis. The brothers seem to grow closer as each descends into his own form of madness, and Altman creates a genuinely dark and disturbing vision of Vincent van Gogh's world, even managing to get in a timely dig at the consumerist excesses of the present-day art world. This is easily one of Altman's best films in years. (RP) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

*Recollections of the Yellow House

Joao Cesar Monteiro's latest feature (winner of the Silver Lion at last year's Venice film festival) is a rare find for the film lover--a pleasure for the eye as well as the mind. As it doesn't have a distributor in the United States, drop everything for a chance to see it. In a sordid rooming house, a hypochondriac, embittered left-wing intellectual (played with Chaplin-esque grace by the filmmaker) pines for the landlady's clarinetist daughter, befriends a lovely prostitute, and tries to get money by any unsavory means he can think of. This does not lead him very far, and, expelled from the rooming house after what he euphemistically calls an "unfortunate incident with the clarinetist," he ends up in the breadline. At this point, the film enters the "forbidden zone": surrealism. The protagonist rents a military uniform and steals a police car; eventually he's sent to a mental asylum, from which, of course, he escapes--only to roam through the sewers of Lisbon, frightening little children with his Nosferatu gait. A wickedly funny, tender, insolent, and imaginative vision of today's Portugal, with a visually compelling mise-en-scene, witty dialogue, and wonderful performances, Recollections of the Yellow House confirms Monteiro as one of the main auteurs in contemporary cinema. (BR) (Fine Arts, 9:00)

Superstar

A big-budget meditation on the life and times of pop artist Andy Warhol directed by Chuck Workman, who made those condensed histories of American film you've seen on Academy Awards night, Superstar delivers much more than the usual talking-heads documentaries that PBS so frequently pummels us with. This film about the meaning of Warhol's art and his place in American cultural history is, by turns, hilarious, irreverent, and surprisingly thoughtful. Perhaps the best thing about the film is Workman's visit to Pittsburgh to interview Andy's surviving relatives, the wonderful Warholas. (Later he interviews executives at the Campbell Soup factory and stars like Dennis Hopper and Viva.) The film's secret is that it never forgets to be both enjoyable and informative. Its producers have high hopes that Superstar will generate enough interest at film festivals to get a wide theatrical release like last year's Roger & Me. While that may be a vain hope, rich production values and superb editing make this film worthy of more than the small-screen fate of most documentaries. (PB) (Fine Arts, 9:30)

House of Wax

Warner Brothers' first big-budget 3-D film was a remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum, which carried the novelty of its day, two-strip Technicolor, back in 1933. The effects are done with playfulness, zest, and some imagination (they range from a barker batting paddle balls in your face to a murderer leaping from the row in front of you), which makes this the most entertaining of the gimmick 3-Ds. The process was maturing into genuine expressiveness--with Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder and Walsh's Gun Fury--just moments before it died. Vincent Price stars as a wax sculptor who cheats a bit here and there; the director is Andre de Toth. (Dave Kehr) (Music Box, 9:30)

Archangel

Legend has it that the Marx Brothers once stopped off in a vaudeville house in Winnipeg, Canada, to see Charlie Chaplin perform, and ever since this frozen Manitoba city has been the funniest place on earth. Could be: the hilarious animator Richard Condie and the uproarious feature filmmaker John Paisz (Crime Wave) both live and work there, and so does Guy Maddin, whose surreal Tales From the Gimli Hospital was a surprise midnight hit, a throwback to Eraserhead. Archangel affirms Maddin's talents as a cinema original, someone who appropriates the look, the rhythms, and the acting and editing styles of late silent cinema for his own postmodernist ends. This time, Maddin gives us an end-of-World War I saga about the mustard-gas-plagued city of Archangel, toward which the one-legged amnesiac Lieutenant Boles stumbles across the eastern front. Each frame of Archangel is a beauty, like a fluffy turn-of-the-century Valentine's card, and Maddin's art direction is simply extraordinary: a memory world of 1927 or so created in an abandoned Winnipeg factory. But somehow the story this time is too private and introverted and the humor too cerebral. Archangel is brilliant, but, alas, sometimes boring. (GP) (Fine Arts, 11:00)

Mirror, Mirror

Given the large number of resources that must go into independent films--not only money but a lot of energy, time, and talent--it's always depressing to see it wasted on imitative schlock. In this particular case, it's especially dispiriting because the two young leads (Rainbow Harvest and Kristin Dattilo) are so good, overshadowing the vets (Karen Black, Yvonne DeCarlo, and William Sanderson) who simply go through their usual paces. The story is essentially your basic teen-occult-horror flick, revolving around the new kid in school who doesn't fit in, the magic mirror with a demon behind it, and how the new kid gets her revenge. (Too bad Stephen King and Brian De Palma already did this in Carrie.) But maybe the efforts of director Marina Sargenti (who's been doing music clips and commercials up to now) haven't been completely wasted: this will probably go straight to video and make a few bucks for its backers. (JS) (Music Box, 11:30)

Sunday October 21

Award-Winning Documentaries: History/Biography

Film titles were unavailable at press time. (Fine Arts, noon)

Men of Respect

See listing under Friday, October 19. (Fine Arts, 1:00)

Bit Parts

"Bit Parts" is the catchy but not-quite-accurate translation of Papeles secondarios (which really means "supporting roles"), the title of the second feature by Cuban director Orlando Rojas. The story involves the restaging of a classic love story set in a brothel in turn-of-the-century Havana. The characters are a "supporting" actress, ready to quit the theater but lured back by the promise of her first starring role; an actress-producer (virtually a legend in her own time); a director recalled from oblivion for a last-ditch comeback; and a bunch of young actors still wet behind the ears but aware of their power. Nowadays any interesting movie from a Communist country is picked apart for its political message, but this one has a broader, fundamentally Marxist bent. The web of intrigue, double-dealing, and betrayal that is spun around the play's revival is less the product of any specific governmental or situational impasse than the result of alienation--alienation from the work through which the characters define themselves and the control or fight for control over that work. That this work is artistic in nature only compounds, never creates, the problem. (RS) (Music Box, 1:00)

*Close Up

Much stranger than fiction, this compelling documentary from Iran recounts the bizarre circumstances surrounding the case of the fake film director. It's about Ali Sabzian, a divorced and down-on-his-luck young man who passed himself off as Mohsen Makhmalbaf, one of the most admired filmmakers of the post-Shah era. Under the guise of preparing a new film, Sabzian became intimate with a well-to-do but gullible family. His ruse was soon discovered, he was arrested, and a muckraking reporter made him famous, characterizing him as a con man caught before he could swindle the family out of their money and possessions. Director Abbas Kiarostami was drawn by the tragicomic elements of the case, so he obtained permission to film Sabzian's trial, and afterward persuaded all involved (except the journalist) to re-create the events on film. Poignant, constantly intriguing, and often humorous, Close Up works on many levels. It documents the vulnerable human ego, exploring the relationship between a person's need for recognition and his self-esteem. Its mix of cinema verite and reenactment explores the idea of documentary "truth," while the discussion during the trial about employment and money serves as a subtle social critique. Ironically, it fulfills the wish of both Sabzian and the Ahankhah family to be involved in the cinema. (AS) (Fine Arts, 3:00)

*The Natural History of Parking Lots

Borrowing freely from the French New Wave (jump cuts and freeze-frames), American director/writer Everett Lewis offers a cool, terse essay on urban displacement in contemporary LA. Shot in harsh black and white, it's an exercise in style, and the images are burned into memory. Neglected by his distant stockbroker father, 17-year-old Chris (Charlie Bean) steals 50s cars until he gets caught and is placed on probation. The father hires Chris's older brother, Lance (B. Wyatt), a drug dealer and gunrunner, to look after him. Essentially plotless, the movie is cut on motion and concerned with the longing for freedom. A series of stylistic devices (low-rushing tracking shots, handheld camera movements, high overhead shots) capture teenage frustration and rage, and the framing suggests confinement. Though the compositions are sometimes too art-conscious and pretty, the movie as a whole has the compression and intensity of a pulp thriller. The use of natural light is almost dangerously sensual, and each shot carries a sense of discovery. The sound track, featuring X and Depeche Mode, is used with subtlety and flair, though the worst sections resemble a music video, with shock editing and jittery camera moves. The film's visual excitement has induced some people to compare it to Bresson and Godard--overpraise considering the conventional story resolution and acting. The film runs the risk of embarrassment, but in a dangerous, exciting way. (PZM) (Music Box, 3:00)

The Reincarnation of the Golden Lotus

A colorful Hong Kong tale of the supernatural, Reincarnation is a recent entry in a tried-and-true genre highly popular with Asian audiences--the collision of ancient past and Hong Kong present. The genre has a long history of antecedents in Chinese literature, though Westerners tend to read into it lots of 1997 paranoia. Beheaded for an affair with her husband's brother, Lotus, a Sung dynasty courtesan, arrives at the gates of hell, where she refuses to drink a potion that will induce forgetfulness. Thus doomed to encounter the faces and traumas of her past in her next reincarnation, she ends up in China during the Cultural Revolution. Raped, denounced as a harlot, and ostracized, even by the man she loves, the innocent girl is transformed into a shrewd survivor who knows how to trade on her physical beauty. A chance encounter with a gullible and soft-hearted Hong Kong businessman leads to a marriage of convenience and escape from mainland China. But installed in the luxury of her new home, Lotus finds there's no escaping fate when she meets her husband's handsome young brother, the love of her past. The pleasure of this story lies less in its content than in the stylish quality of the delivery, replete with special effects and high-fashion wardrobes. While fashionable glossiness is a requisite of the genre, so is emotional resonance, something Reincarnation lacks to a degree. Aside from the poignancy of the mismatched relationship between Lotus and her endearingly goofy husband (a heartfelt performance by Eric Tsang, providing occasional comic relief), the complicated love affairs seem empty. The ending dispatches characters and story with disconcerting speed after a lengthy buildup. Although Reincarnation isn't quite in the class of the best of its kind--including Dream Lovers and A Chinese Ghost Story--it offers a relatively rich entertainment experience. (BS) (Fine Arts, 4:00)

DECEMBER

An Italian feature directed by Antonio Monda about the unorthodox behavior of a young recent widow, who jokes with an old friend at her husband's funeral, rejects the aid of her brother, and spends all her time with her favorite nephew, a fellow film buff, with whom she forms a powerful bond. With Pamela Villoresi, Alessandro Haber, and Pino Colizzi. (Fine Arts, 5:00)

*Termini Station

They're not supposed to make movies like this anymore--movies with tough, funny, sad, exhilarating screenplays about plucky loners and passionate losers, movies that test the viewer's emotions every step of the way. Set in a crummy mining town in snowy Canada, Colleen Murphy's beautifully written script tells of a family troubled by past scandal and a dead-end present. Molly, the 60ish mother, is eccentric and possibly mad, drunk, and dying; confined to a bedroom in her uptight, family-man son's house, she plays opera tapes, drinks Scotch smuggled in to her by her rebellious teenage daughter Micheline, and dreams of going to Rome (whose major transit station gives the film its title) in search of "passion." The same quest had previously driven her into a notorious affair with a Jew--a scandal that had led to her husband's bloody suicide, her son's resentment, and her daughter's identity crisis and drift into prostitution. Every character in this film is looking for an escape; how Molly and Micheline find theirs is the crux of Murphy's compassionately told story. Ably directed with high production values by Canada's Allan King, Termini Station is a feast of fabulous acting. Colleen Dewhurst, always a master at expressing volcanic emotion--what a King Lear she'd make!--is infuriating and heartrending as the regal, ragged Molly. Megan Follows is intense and enigmatic as Micheline, a girl with a barbed-wire heart. Gordon Clapp and Debra McGrath are very moving as the rage-filled son and his decent, loving wife; and Norma Dell'Agnese and Hannah Lee are poignantly funny as Micheline's fellow streetwalkers, dreaming of boyfriends while servicing clients. Highly recommended. (AW) (Music Box, 5:00)

City Life

A dozen international directors contribute fictional sketches set in their respective cities--an idea set in motion by Dutch filmmakers Mildred van Leeuwaarden and Dick Rijneke, who themselves contributed a segment set in Randstad. The other filmmakers and cities: Alejandro Agresti (Buenos Aires), Gabor Altorjay (Hamburg), Jose Luis Guerin (Barcelona), Krzysztof Kieslowski (Warsaw), Clemens Klopfenstein (Bevagna), Tato Kotetishvili (Tbilisi), Ousmane William M'Baye (Dakar), Eagle Pennell (Houston), Carlos Reichenbach (Sao Paulo), Mrinal Sen (Calcutta), and Bela Tarr (Budapest). The resulting feature, dedicated to the late Hubert Bals (director of the Rotterdam film festival), is four hours long, with a 20-minute intermission halfway through. One expects an anthology of this kind to be uneven, but given the participation of directors as important and as interesting as Kieslowski (The Decalogue), Klopfenstein (Macao, or Beyond the Sea), Reichenbach (Suburban Angels), and Tarr (Damnation), it seems worth checking out. (JR) (Fine Arts, 6:00)

*Interrogation

Ryszard Bugajski's Interrogation, shot in Poland in 1980 and '81 and banned by the 1981 martial law, was finally released at the last Berlin film festival. It takes place during the Stalin era, and its unlikely heroine is a fun-loving cabaret dancer, Tonia (Krystyna Janda, in her best role ever). Because of her friendship (and possible one-night stand) with a man who has become a political suspect, she is arrested and ruthlessly interrogated. "It's better to confess," her broken-down cell mates advise her. "Why don't you confess?" her interrogators ask. "What is it that you believe in?" Tonia believes in nothing except her innocence. Even when it seems there is no longer any point to her struggle (the man against whom she refused to testify is eventually executed), she keeps on asserting her right as a woman not to be defiled for her past sex life or her attractive appearance and her right as a human being not to betray herself. Her gumption provokes a sort of minor miracle: the admiration and then the impossible love of one of her jailers. In spite of some hard-to-take torture scenes (that, however, never indulge in bad taste), Interrogation is a curiously uplifting film thanks to Janda's energetic, luminous performance. (BR) (Music Box, 7:00)

There Are Days . . . and Moons

Claude Lelouch has always been the Mr. Slick of French cinema--glib, artsy-craftsy, and smug, with a knack for making postcard-pretty images to match the seemingly profound (but distressingly banal) ideas of his films. (From time to time, he comes up with a scene or a sequence that works.) His A Man and a Woman, as empty as a car commercial, was everyone's favorite 20 years ago. Now the director-writer has dreamed up a whole series of couples (including a very discreet gay priest and his lover) who interact over a long two hours plus. We get adultery, young romance, mother love, car accidents--the lot. The cast is a who's who of popular French cinema, and they act their hearts out. Yet the only effective moment in the whole long affair is Philippe Leotard singing in front of a rain-streaked window, his glorious wreck of a face containing the emotions lacking in every other frame of the film. Surprisingly, Lelouch's well-known technical abilities seem here to have deserted him. The whole thing is clumsy. (DO) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

A-Ge-Man: Tales of a Golden Geisha

Fans of Juzo Itami's previous comedies will probably enjoy his latest assault on Japan's patriarchal institutions. The film follows the career of a young geisha from her beginnings as a Buddhist monk's mistress to her position with one of Japan's most powerful politicians. Considered to be an a-ge-man, or "lucky lady," by the men she serves, she becomes a pawn in the battle between greedy businessmen fighting to reach the top. But the geisha is wiser than any of the men and winds up turning the tables on them. If all of this sounds vaguely familiar, it's because Itami has covered similar territory in his extremely popular films Tampopo and A Taxing Woman. A-Ge-Man includes the usual assortment of slapstick gags and jokes about the sex lives of repressed businessmen, and the occasional serious interlude. There are some amusing moments in the film, but this material is wearing thin for Itami. (RP) (Fine Arts, 9:30)

Gun Fury

The problem with 3-D movies is that aside from the obvious 3-D effects (propelled objects--in this case a veritable cornucopia of them as an enraged female vents her anger at a young Lee Marvin), the compositional intricacies aimed at can be virtually impossible to figure out. To be honest, I haven't seen Gun Fury in 3-D and haven't a clue whether the added dimension does anything to lift it out of its niche as a "minor" entry in director Raoul Walsh's oeuvre. The movie possesses a degree of sexual brutality rare for its time (1953) and certainly rare with such actors as Rock Hudson and Donna Reed. If the leads are predictably bland--and they are (though, charitably, their blandness can be read in the context of the film as sexual naivete)--Lee Marvin's raffish sidekick-of-the-villain more than makes up the difference. Hats off to the festival for revealing whatever 3-D logic lies behind the extraordinary sense of space and place in this movie: maybe there's more than meets the 2-D eye. (RS) (Music Box, 9:30)

Monday October 22

Award-Winning Student Productions

First of two programs. (Fine Arts, 3:00)

Award-Winning Video Productions

First of two programs. (Fine Arts, 4:30)

*Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Two of the most impressive films on the festival circuit this year were lovingly crafted, made-for-television pieces by young and extremely talented female directors. Both Jane Campion's An Angel at My Table and Beeban Kidron's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit work magnificently on the big screen and offer a rare intimacy. Don't be put off by the title or the 160-minute running time; Oranges treats such universal themes as being an outsider and making difficult choices in an intelligent and totally compelling way. Set during the 60s, this three-part BBC production follows its engaging red-headed heroine Jess from age 7 to age 17, and shows her coming to terms with her fervently evangelical mother and her emerging lesbian sexuality. As adapted by Jeanette Winterson from her very funny autobiographical novel, the film retains all the wit and humor of its source. The performances are outstanding, and the details of life in a working-class Lancashire village are carefully and affectionately observed. (AS) (Music Box, 6:00)

Alligator Eyes

This low-budget independent first feature was made with obvious good intentions and some fairly nifty ideas by a talented writer-director and cast. Alligator Eyes is an offbeat road movie in which Annabelle Larsen plays a woman out for sexual thrills and revenge against her mother's lover, who blinded her after killing her mother. She gets picked up by two couples trying to relive the 60s, and seduces them into heading for alligator country (she's obsessed with the lizards). The film has a nice jittery feel to it, and the cast manages to suggest that all sorts of sinister things are going on. The problem is that very little actually is going on: the film builds up as a thriller, but there's no climax. Still, John Feldman has a future as a writer and director, and we might all be looking back at this one. (DO) (Fine Arts, 6:30)

TV Commercials

Does it mean something that this is always the festival's most popular program? Two hours' worth of 30- and 60-second spots from around the world. (Fine Arts, 7:00)

User Friendly

This seemingly endless "comedy" from New Zealand centers around the theft of a primitive dog statue that contains a magical youth-bestowing elixir. The thief is a cosmetics tycoon who wants to market the substance to boost sales. An elderly couple who run a rejuvenation clinic hear about the statue and steal it from the cosmetics tycoon for their own purposes. Then an archaeologist and his girlfriend also steal the dog in order to return it to its rightful owners. Virtually the entire film consists of the three couples running around after each other. To add to the fun (or to make matters worse, depending on how much of this you can take) the elixir also happens to be an aphrodisiac, which means we're treated to a number of supposedly amusing sexual encounters. The director, Gregor Nicholas, does his best to make up for the lack of original material by giving us some quirky characters and some weird scenery, but the result is neither weird nor quirky. (RP) (Fine Arts, 9:00)

Award-Winning Video Productions

Second of two programs. (Fine Arts, 9:30)

Better Days Ahead

Carlos Diegues's Brazilian feature about a middle-aged woman who goes to Rio hoping to become a famous actress and wind up in Hollywood. The only work she can find, however, is dubbing an American sitcom called The Mary Shadow Show into Portuguese. One of the principal figures in Brazil's Cinema Novo before he made it big on the international circuits with Bye Bye Brazil, Diegues is generally a figure worth following, so this is probably worth checking out. (JR) (Music Box, 9:30)

Tuesday October 23

A-Ge-Man: Tales of a Golden Geisha

See review under Sunday, October 21. (Fine Arts, 4:00)

There Are Days . . . and Moons

See review under Sunday, October 21. (Fine Arts, 4:30)

On Death Row

One of the effects of the political changes sweeping Eastern Europe these days has been the rapid and often radical reexamination of postwar history by the countries involved. In the case of Hungary, the most compelling subject in need of a closer look is the unsuccessful anti-Communist uprising of 1956 and its repressive aftermath. Janos Zsombolyai's On Death Row is modest in scope and emotionally detached, yet manages to capture the essence of the political and social injustices inflicted by the Communist government upon the Hungarian people. Told largely through flashbacks, this fictional story centers on Ferenc Gergo (Peter Malcsiner), a young factory worker who finds himself sentenced to death in a 1958 show trial, despite having been only peripherally involved in the revolution. As we witness an impressionistic account of the previous five years of his life, the ruthlessness--and the illegitimacy--of the Communist rule becomes apparent. The impact of the film would be even greater were it not for overly frequent intercutting between the prison cell and flashback sequences. As a result, the film's focus is needlessly shifted away from the engaging content of the story to the formal devices employed in telling it. (ZB) (Fine Arts, 6:30)

Award-Winning Short Subjects

Denise McKenna's The Blue Men (U.S.), Gregor Nicholas's Rushes (New Zealand), Robert Klenner's Sparks (Australia), Richard Kwietniowski's Flames of Passion (England), and Belinda Chayko's Swimming (Australia). (Music Box, 7:00)

Bright Angel

Richard Ford's wonderful 1987 Rock Springs is perhaps the finest short story collection of the last decade, proving Ford a Hemingway for our time without the Hemingway macho hang-ups, an inspired complement to minimalist Raymond Carver. So it was with great rejoicing that Ford-watchers received news that the writer himself had forged several of his Rock Springs stories, youth tales set in Montana, into a screenplay. But the film is a major disappointment. It's hard to tell whether Ford's script works or not, because first-time director Michael Fields can't direct screen actors and has no idea where to place the camera. His cinematic amateurishness is hardly surprising considering he cut his teeth directing for TV's moribund American Playhouse. As a result, the lines seem awkward and the actors--Dermot Mulroney, Lili Taylor, Valerie Perrine, Burt Young, Mary Kay Place--seem clumsy. The worst of the bunch is Sam Shepard as a tortured rancher destroyed by his wife's adultery, but in this case blame the performer. Shepard does a mannered rendition of himself, each stiff, pensive sentence meant to be taken as frontier poetry. (GP) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Farewell, China

Clara Law (The Reincarnation of the Golden Lotus) is usually the young Hong Kong director to watch, but not this time. Farewell, China begins with promise in mainland China, depicting with atmospheric delicacy the relationship between a young husband and wife at a turning point in their lives. Li is leaving to study in the U.S. and plans to send for her husband Zhou and their baby after she gets settled. However, time goes by, Li's correspondence is infrequent, and finally Zhou receives a letter asking for a divorce. Panic-stricken, he heads for New York, where the rest of the film is set, to look for her. Law is not the first director to fail at portraying culture shock or the American urban experience as seen through foreign eyes. Farewell, China presents a distasteful parade of stereotypes, both American and Chinese, in a plot that is cartoonlike to the extreme. In New York, Li has become a mentally unbalanced con artist who bilks elderly Chinese Americans of their savings. Meanwhile, Zhou searches for her in the company of his new sidekick, Jane, a punked-out, drug-addicted Eurasian child prostitute who boasts of her abortions. In time, he becomes Jane's pimp. Two of Hong Kong's most popular young stars, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung, are at their worst here, and one can only blame the direction. Cheung, usually gorgeous, bubbly, and sensual, is hysterical, off-balance, and crude. The clean-cut Leung seems out of place in the more degrading aspects of his role. The story is rife with symbolism of the most blatant kind, which regrettably will have audiences hooting with inappropriate laughter. (BS) (Fine Arts, 9:00)

The Charge at Feather River

Gordon Douglas directed this 3-D western in 1953, which features Guy Madison, Vera Miles, Frank Lovejoy, and Helen Westcott. (Music Box, 9:30)

*Alexandria Always and Forever

Twelve years after making Alexandria Why?, Egyptian director Youssef Chahine, convinced that being born in Alexandria is an artistic statement in itself, playfully pursues his autobiography. In Alexandria Why?, we saw the same two characters: Chahine, as himself, and a young actor, his protege and sexual obsession. The new film starts with the young man's rebellion; he no longer wants to be Chahine's creation (a later, vengeful sequence will show him directing third-rate television sitcoms). At the same time, Chahine's wife, the second pole in his life, suffers a serious car injury. Chahine's recourse is to stage a parody of his life: an aging, bisexual director in search of himself. He imagines a musical number in which he sings of unrequited love ("Steal my eyes to look at him--how handsome he is!"); a parody of the film version of Cleopatra, where he plays a ridiculous, red-wigged Antony; a Gene Kelly-like dance number to commemorate the prize he once received in Berlin. Then, at a filmmakers' strike, he meets a young actress. She is from another generation, she represents Egypt's future, she is talented and beautiful. Will Chahine be able to shake his self-indulgent mood and play Pygmalion again? Alexandria Always and Forever provides a superb answer from the forever young master of Egyptian cinema. (BR) (Fine Arts, 9:30)

Wednesday October 24

Award-Winning Student Productions

Second of two programs. (Fine Arts, 3:00)

Diary for My Father and Mother

See review under Saturday, October 20. (Fine Arts, 4:30)

Horseplayer

The gambler of the title is played by Brad Dourif, who works in a liquor store and bets on the races. He becomes entangled with an odd couple who move into his building--a struggling artist (M.K. Harris) and his promiscuous wife (Sammi Davis)--and his orderly existence is undermined. An American independent feature by Kurt Voss. (Fine Arts, 6:30)

Shaking the Tree

Shot in Chicago, this engaging low-budget work by Duane Clark carries the usual limitations and virtues of films of its kind. Apparently following Godard's maxim--the best way to criticize a film is to remake it--Clark appropriated Barry Levinson's Diner. Set in December 1989, this is a buddy movie about four friends who must suddenly accept adult responsibilities. The performances are uniformly fine: Barry (Arye Gross) is a real estate analyst whose forthcoming marriage to Michelle (Christina Haag) provides the movie's loose structure. Sully (Gale Hansen) is the prodigal son, a wanderer and drinker who owes $10,000 in gambling debts. Michael (Doug Savant) is an unsuccessful writer and literature teacher whose long-suffering wife Kathleen (Courteney Cox in the Ellen Barkin role) is about to give birth to their first child. Duke (Steven Wilde, who wrote the film with Clark) is an ex-boxer and lothario caught in a dead-end job. The material isn't original, but it has a peculiar innocence and sincerity, and Ronn Schmidt's clean, elegant cinematography and Sean Mannion's striking production design are first-rate. Clark doesn't seem entirely comfortable with the film, so he's jazzed it up with Hollywood conceits (a long, pointless montage set in Comiskey Park, and a fake suicide). The movie's perception of Chicago (an outsider's) is somewhat disappointing, and as in Diner, the treatment of women is pretty reactionary. But the screenplay itself has substance, making the ex-jock the most interesting and complex character. Shaking the Tree isn't profound, but Clark is smart enough not to work outside his gift for creating small pleasures. (PZM) (Music Box, 7:00)

Terra-Cotta Warrior

Chiang Sui Tang's Hong Kong-People's Republic of China coproduced Terra-Cotta Warrior is a Spielbergian romance-adventure with a touch of time-travel--2,000 years of it in this case. In imperialist China, Emperor Quin Shihuang burned all books, built the Great Wall, and commissioned terra-cotta warriors to guard his tomb, wanting history to begin and end with him. It is one of these warriors, granted the gift of eternal life that's denied his ruler, who must relive the loss of the woman he loves over and over again. The first part of the film is impressive enough in its action-adventure way, but the second part falls apart in its depiction of the heroine, a far too stupid and vulnerable starlet infatuated with a vain and dangerous movie star in the prewar 30s. In this particular incarnation, the heroine is so made up, so overdressed, that any link to her previous life seems as impossible as a new incarnation seems inevitable. The film has too much distance from its subject, inviting a complicity with the audience that dooms its characters to caricature. To its credit, and unlike Spielberg's films, it never tries to pass off its tours de force as epiphanies, or its time-travel trips as apotheoses. (RS) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Monsieur

A satirical comedy in black and white that marks the directorial debut of its writer-director, Jean-Philippe Toussaint, this French-Belgian coproduction concerns the comic misadventures of a young man who works in an insurance company and lives with his girlfriend's family. Many critics have noted a certain influence from Jacques Tati, and most reports suggest that this is worth seeing. With Dominic Gould, Wojtek Pszoniak, Eva Ionesco, and Alexandra Stewart. (JR) (Fine Arts, 9:00)

Fort Ti

At the age of ten, my friends and I decided that this routine western directed by William Castle, set during the French-Indian War in the 1760s, was the best 3-D movie ever. Why? To the best of my recollection, it was because at one point a flaming arrow or spear seems to come out of the screen at you, and, at another, a character spits tobacco juice right in your eye. With George Montgomery and Joan Vohs (1953). (JR) (Music Box, 9:30)

Grim Prairie Tales

A strange film, this. Despite its title and its seeming categorization as a horror film, what we really have here is an anthology western comprised of four tall tales. The horror is far more internal than external--few special effects, a minimum of blood and gore, and a growing fascination with the power of story telling. Brad Dourif (everybody's favorite psychopath, this time cast as an out-of-his-element clerk) meets up with an outlandishly expansive James Earl Jones (occasional bounty hunter, expert on all that lies west of the Mississippi, and storyteller extraordinaire), and the sparks fly in a magnificent display of yarn-spinning one-upmanship. The interaction between Dourif and Jones alone is worth the price of admission, their reactions to each other's stories creating context upon context. Almost--but unfortunately not quite--like a Fuller film, the real story here is the nature and character of America. But as Dourif and Jones exchange stories (Dourif only has one--but it's a doozy), they create an alternate history. Grim Prairie Tales is a more-than-creditable entry by first-time director and well-known illustrator Wayne Coe, who seems fascinated with the interplay of words and images as tales of death, sex, race, and blood help pass a cold winter's night. (RS) (Fine Arts, 9:30)

Thursday October 25

Shaking the Tree

See review under Wednesday, October 24. (Fine Arts, 4:00)

Terra-Cotta Warrior

See review under Wednesday, October 24. (Fine Arts, 4:30)

Jobman

Billed as "a timely and jarring film about racism and apartheid," Darrell Roodt's latest feature from South Africa is sadly anything but. The film follows the ordeals of a mute black South African who, after spending several unsuccessful months looking for work in a nearby city, returns to the farm where he was raised to reclaim his wife and child. Apparently, everyone has some sort of vendetta against Jobman, because along the way he is beaten up by skinheads, the police, his father, his father-in-law, his neighbors, and just about anyone else who can get his hands on him. Pursued into the desert by a posse of white men from surrounding farms who have decided that he is a nuisance, Jobman becomes a veritable one-man army, a black Rambo who takes on the entire posse in the final showdown. Director Roodt has given us a story so devoid of complexity and a protagonist so undeveloped as a character that it is difficult to maintain any sympathy for or interest in Jobman's plight. The film's message (that Jobman's suffering represents that of all black South Africans) is so obvious and heavy-handed that the film is stripped of any power it could have had as an allegory about apartheid. (RP) (Fine Arts, 6:30)

The Comediant

Eduardo Mignogna's Argentinean biopic about the celebrated actor and comedian Florencio Parravicini, also known as "Flop"--a tale told in flashbacks from the vantage point of a 1941 stage performance. With Victor Laplace, Inda Ledesma, and Leonor Manso. (Music Box, 7:00)

Best of the Festival

Selections of the festival's best films. (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Lost Spring

With a tiny budget and a crew of four, French director Alain Mazars went on location to Mongolia. Two and a half years later he finished this melodrama, drawn from 16th-century opera. Religion, spiritualism, and arranged marriages are all part of this tale of a Chinese opera singer sent to a prison camp in 1966, during the Cultural Revolution. After his release he becomes a truck driver and finds temporary happiness with an arranged bride, only to have her childhood sweetheart turn up. The film is effective as human drama, and even more so as a portrait of a society still in turmoil. What fascinated him, says Mazars, is that China's centuries-long upheaval is reflected in the sentimental tales of traditional opera, which sublimates violence and excessive emotions. The film is subtle, highly stylized, and visually beautiful. (DO) (Fine Arts, 9:00)

The Mad Magician

Vincent Price plays a crazy inventor of magic acts who kills and then impersonates famous magicians, all in 3-D. John Brahm directed, and Mary Murphy and Eva Gabor costar (1954). (Music Box, 9:30)

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