This Week at the Chicago Film Festival | Festival | Chicago Reader
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FRIDAY, OCTOBER 16

The Land Behind the Rainbow

An autobiographical first feature by German filmmaker Herwig Kipping, set in a village in East Germany in the 50s and focusing in part on a clash of social views between himself as a child and his father and grandfather. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

The Border

This Slavic Romeo and Juliet story shows the complexity of the inter-ethnic hatreds long extant in Yugoslavia. In the Vojvodina territory on the Yugoslav-Hungarian border, the period between 1945 and 1948 saw a shifting of nationalities and allegiances as the government brought in Serbian "freedom fighters" to claim the property of repatriated minorities. When the Topics, a family of Bosnian Serbs, move into a primarily Croatian village, a forbidden romance grows between the oldest son and his beautiful but war-scarred neighbor. As the winds of change follow the winds of war, blowing hardship on Serb and Croat alike, the families of the young lovers finally accept their common humanity, but only after irreversible tragedy. The themes of Zoran Masirevic's debut film, made in 1990, seem particularly poignant in light of current events. Sadly, the lesson that it offers has gone unheeded. (AS) (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Forbidden Homework

Jaime Humberto Hermosillo's riff on the familiar themes of voyeurism, incest, and the omnipresence of video seems shallow and jejune only two years removed from his virtually identical Homework. Santiago (Esteban Soberanes), a bright, enthusiastic film student, enlists the help of Virginia (Maria Rojo), a radiant middle-aged actress, to complete his senior project. His assignment is to make a film composed in a single, uninterrupted take. While the two discuss the form and shape of the proposed narrative, Santiago surreptitiously records their discussions with the intention of passing off this footage as the finished work. The conversation inevitably moves to their shared past, where key details emerge, principally Santiago's raging obsession for Virginia set off by their brief, intense liaison two years earlier. Hermosillo's initial withholding of crucial exposition produces a series of genuine revelations and discoveries, but he can't bring these shards and vignettes to a satisfying resolution. Almost the entire story unfolds on a cramped apartment roof, and the confinement and alienation produce all the wrong effects, oppression and stasis rather than liberation or freedom. Technically the film is dull, especially Alex Phillips's flat cinematography. On the other hand the luminous Maria Rojo (Danzon) is an astonishing actress whose intricate and deft line readings and body language are breathtaking. She belongs in a better movie. (PZM) (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me

An American feature by Joel Hirshman. After accidentally shooting his wife, the protagonist heads for a California trailer park with her $200,000, where he encounters circus animals, a porno star, and opera singers--or at least that's what the festival's blurb seems to imply. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Bathroom Mirror

The first feature of Mexican filmmaker Jaime Humberto Hermosillo to use a single camera setup for the duration of the entire film. In this case, the camera is placed behind the mirror in a middle-class family's bathroom. (Music Box, 5:00)

*Actress (also known as Center Stage.)

A masterpiece by Stanley Kwan, the greatest Hong Kong film I've seen. The story of silent film actress Ruan Ling Yu (1910-1935), known as the Garbo of Chinese cinema, it combines documentary with period re-creation, biopic glamor with profound curiosity, and ravishing historical clips with color simulations of the same sequences being shot--all to explore a past that seems more complex, mysterious, and sexy than the present. Maggie Cheung won a well-deserved best actress prize at Berlin for her classy performance in the title role, and a large part of what Kwan does as a director is to create a kind of nimbus around her poise and grace. (If I had to pick a Hollywood equivalent, I'd opt for George Cukor.) Kwan also creates a labyrinth of questions around who Ruan was and why she committed suicide--a labyrinth both physical (with beautifully ambiguous uses of black-and-white movie sets) and metaphysical--and keeps these questions perpetually open. You should be prepared for a picture that lasts 146 minutes and invites you to relish every one of them--not only the stylish beauty of an imagined Shanghai film world of the 30s, but also the flat abrasiveness of Kwan chatting with Cheung on video about what all this means and coming up with damn little. Any historical movie worth its salt historicizes the present along with the past, and this movie is partly and implicitly about our inadequacy next to those potent clips of Ruan Ling Yu herself (JR) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

Wild Blue Moon

A directorial collaboration between Francesca Fisher and Chicagoan Taggart Siegel (Blue Collar & Buddha). In 1968 a hippie painter (Thom Vernon) is engaged to a flamenco dancer (El norte's Zaide Silvia Gutierrez) in Mexico. But when he's treated for a "problem of the heart" by a witch's daughter (Maira Serbulo), he becomes involved with her as well, then abandons her when she becomes pregnant and has to face her magical retribution. With Greg Sporleder. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

*Angel of Fire

Filmmaker Dana Rotberg's second feature is a knockout. It has that peculiarly Mexican nontranscendental fusion of the symbolic and the everyday: objects seem to glow with life and meaning but stay firmly fixed, never fading into background or sliding into subjectivity (helped in no small measure by an extraordinary vibrancy of color). Its 15-year-old heroine radiates an almost palpable innocence and an acceptance of everything and anything--including the incestuous baby of her beloved father she proudly carries as a wondrous gift to be celebrated and cherished. She's also a professional angel--sitting on a trapeze high above the tawdry circus tent over which she reigns, she spits fire like a benediction over those who watch from below. Forced to leave the circus that's been her only home, the angel hooks up with a traveling puppet show put on by an evangelist whose evil is cloaked in a strange mythology of pardon and self-sacrifice. Our heroine follows trustingly along, until an unspeakable betrayal sparks a flame that consumes everything--except the memory of a limpidity that briefly, incandescently, transfigured the world. (RS) (Music Box, 7:00)

*Reservoir Dogs

A stunning debut from first-time writer-director Quentin Tarantino, though a far cry from Stanley Kubrick's 1956 The Killing, to which it dearly owes a debt. Like The Killing, it employs an intricate flashback structure to follow the before and after of a carefully planned heist and explores some of the homoerotic allegiances, betrayals, and tensions involved; unlike The Killing, it never flashes back to the heist itself and leaves too many knots still tied at the end. The hoods here--including Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, and (in a bit) Tarantino himself--are all ex-cons hired by an older ex-con (Lawrence Tierney) who conceals their identities from one another by assigning them the names of colors, Our grasp of what's going on is always in flux, and Tarantino's skill with actors, dialogue, 'Scope framing, and offbeat construction is kaleidoscopic. More questionable are the show-offy celebrations of brutality: buckets of blood, racist and homophobic invective, and an excruciating sequence of sadistic torture and (offscreen) mutilation that is dearly meant to awe us with its sheer unpleasantness. It's unclear whether this macho thriller does anything to improve the state of the world or our understanding of it. But it certainly sets off enough sky rockets to hold us and shake us for every one of its 99 minutes. (JR) (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

*Hyenas

Since his extraordinary first feature Touki Bouki (1973)--the first and perhaps only experimental feature in African cinema--Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambety has survived mainly as a stage and film actor, and expectations about his second feature have naturally run high. My first response to Hyenas was that it's a safer film than its predecessor, but on further reflection I find it in many ways a more considered and mature one, with ironies that may turn out to be even deadlier. This is an African adaptation of Friedrich Durrenmatt's famous German play The Visit (also filmed, rather unsatisfactorily, by Bernhard Wicki with Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn in the mid-60s): A wealthy, aging woman returns to the impoverished village she left many years before and offers a fortune to the people there if they will murder a local shopkeeper who seduced, impregnated, and abandoned her when she was 16. At first the villagers disdainfully reject her offer, but then they decide they're at least entitled to purchase the shopkeeper's goods on credit, and then their taste for luxuries starts to grow--clearly a comic allegory about contemporary colonialism, consumerism, and what they have to do with each other. Mambety shows an able hand in managing his talented cast and cuts quite a commanding figure himself when he appears in a pivotal small role. (JR) (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez

This silent film by the highly regarded theater director Peter Sellars, his first feature, is an ambitious, uneven mess, its bravura, spellbinding images flattened by the often dull staging and claustrophobic cinematography. Even though the film was cut by 25 minutes after its 1991 Cannes debut, it still plays too long; for a movie about the fallout of the go-go 80s, the pace is unusually torpid. Composer John Adams (Nixon in China) contributes a nightmarish score responsible for the film's dark, eerie tones. Sellars has a powerful central conceit in using silence as a painful metaphor for the extreme divisions in contemporary American society. The film works best as a flow of images; David Watkin's burnished, highly textured photography is angular and threatening. But the avidity and shape of the images lose something when the action shifts inside, becoming too art-conscious and artificial. Sellars's screenplay is a catalog of the worst abuses of the Reagan-Bush social and political order: stock-market crashes, savings-and-loan bailouts, rampant crime, random killings, and the rise of racism. The story suggests Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities redone as The Marriage of Figaro with its intermingling of class figures: a Wall Street yuppie (Peter Gallagher), his indifferent lover (Joan Cusack), a street person (Mikhail Baryshnikov, badly underused), and the eponymous enigmatic cult leader (Ron Vawter). The title suggests Robert Wiene's expressionist classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, though Sellars makes visual references to F.W. Murnau, Fritz Lang, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Robert Bresson, and Andrei Tarkovsky. It's not a bad debut, though Sellars needs to find a form and style more persuasively his own. (PZM) (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

Chain of Desire

A New York nightdub singer (Linda Fiorentino) accidentally meets a Hispanic worker (Elias Koteas) and sets off a string of erotic intrigues that cross class lines in an American feature directed by Temistocles Lopez; with Malcolm McDowell and Assupta Serna. (Music Box, 9:00)

Like Water for Chocolate

When Tita's mother forbids her to marry her handsome young lover Pedro according to a family tradition that obliges the youngest daughter to stay at home to care and cook for her mother, Pedro marries the eldest daughter in order to stick around. But Tita, who cried in her mother's womb when she smelled freshly chopped onions, is a magical cook: when cries she over the wedding cake her mother makes her bake, all the guests are overcome by tears; when she pricks her hands stripping rose petals for the sauce for a dish of grilled quail, erotic heat grips all who taste it, and the middle sister runs naked from the shower that has failed to cool her and into the arms of the rebel soldier who carries her off on horseback to a new life. Like Water for Chocolate, set on the Texas-Mexican border in 1910, is based on Laura Esquivel's best-selling novel, which comes complete with recipes (just translated and published by Doubleday). Esquivel's husband, the great Mexican actor-director Alfonso Arau, has translated this delicious, humorous, and erotic magical realist fairy tale to the screen with delicacy and passion. A romantic epic that treats food with the respect it deserves, it satisfies: you won't be hungry for more, you'll be hungry for something else--like a great meal or a great love. (MB) (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

Gun Crazy

Tamra Davis's film is not really a remake of the 1949 Joseph H. Lewis cult classic, but there are parallels and connections. Both are youth exploitation films about misfits with guns moving through a sinister and dark America. The first half of the new film works wonderfully well. Living in a trailer with her lecherous stepfather (the marvelously low-life Joe Dallesandro), Anita, the 17-year-old town slut (played by the exploitation queen of the 90s, Drew Barrymore, who gives little in the way of performance but a good deal in the way of sleazy presence), brings her ex-con pen pal Howard to town. He gets a job by claiming to be reborn. The town religious cult master may or may not be a phony, and Howard's conversion may or may not be cynical. This portrait of backwoods America is hilarious and trenchant. When Anita has to shoot her stepfather, the two lovers are forced to run. At this point the film should explode as violence meets violence on the road in the States. Alas, the two settle into a house in the suburbs and the film deflates. (DO) (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

The Giving

Jeremiah Pollock (Kevin Kildow) is a prodigal yuppie computer programmer with a Marina del Rey condo and enough liberal guilt to counterbalance Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky in the grand karmic scheme of things. When he realizes the futility of his contributions to charities for the homeless, he reprograms his employer's ATMs to give away money to LA's dispossessed. This hook, while clever, is not the main virtue of Eames Demetrios's debut feature, whose cast includes several real inhabitants of LAs skid rows; rather a poetic, anthropological view of LA--laid out in frequent intrusions on the narrative--provides a more profound perspective for the story, which otherwise could have turned into another Life Stinks. In avoiding the simplistic Hollywood-liberal view, with its skin-deep analysis--that the homeless are just unfortunate folks suffering from bad times--The Giving comes dangerously dose to terminal heaviness. (For instance, it could have used fewer Jesus comparisons and a lot more rock 'n' roll.) But the film's provocative approach and the crisp, hyperreal black-and-white cinematography lift it above the main current of experimental film. (AK) (Pipers Alley, 9:45)

The Silencer

An American thriller directed and cowritten by Amy Goldstein about a professional hit woman (Lynette Walden) who gets pressed back into service (as well as into some tight leather outfits) to bump off the five leaders of a child-slavery ring. Cowritten by Scott Kraft; with Chris Mulkey, Paul Ganus, and Brook Parker. (Music Box, 11:30)

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 17

Wild Blue Moon

See listing under Friday, October 16. (Pipers Alley, 1:00)

Gun Crazy

See listing under Friday, October 16. (Pipers Alley, 1:00)

Short Program IV

Five shorts from five countries that look at the grown-up world from the viewpoint of children: Mark Schlichter's German Felix, Christophe Debuisne's French Lea, Polly Seddon's Australian Monster Fish, John Roberts's This Boy's Story from the UK, and Ingrid Breyer's Total Eclipse from the U.S. (Music Box, 1:30)

Like Water for Chocolate

See listing under Friday, October 16. (Pipers Alley, 2:00)

Brats

In the streets of Janos Rozsa's modern-day Budapest, brats are kids of all ages and persuasions. They dabble in everything from shoplifting to breaking and entering to bribing an official to delay a traffic light so they'll have enough time to wash windshields--less a lost generation than a very enterprising one. in a film about children, Rozsa's camera is surprisingly neither complicitous nor condemning. These kids aren't particularly cute, nor are they symbolic of societal disaffection. For one thing, there isn't a malicious bone in their bodies. For another, they're strong on family values--most of Atilla's ill-gotten gains go quite happily to support his jailed brother's wife and kid; ten-year-old Cosma (organizer of the windshield brigade and master of countless hustles and con games) is the financial mainstay of his loving family; and coming-of-age Zoli finds himself falling head over heels in love with a cousin from Transylvania. In this catch-as-catch-can existence, trouble, usually in the form of the police, is never far behind. But when disaster does strike, it comes from a most unexpected source. (RS) (Pipers Alley, 3:00)

The Suspended Stride of the Stork

Though not well-known in the U.S., Greek director Theo Angelopoulos is considered a major figure in world cinema. His previous features include The Travelling Players, Alexander the Great, Voyage to Cythera, and Landscape in the Mist, all of which have won major awards. Angelopoulos's distinctive and deliberate--some would say agonizingly slow--pacing is again in evidence in this new film. First shown in competition at Cannes in 1991 and one of his best efforts in years, this film is permeated by a dark but beguiling fin-de-siecle brooding on the present, depressing state of Europe. Some aspects of the actors' performances are self-consciously stylized, adding a kind of Brechtian overlay to the story of a young television reporter who travels to a remote Greek frontier town to investigate the plight of refugees crowding in there. Most striking is the director's undiminished ability to sum up ideas and emotions in signature images that either are empty of people or turn human subjects into abstract shapes and lines, images he is not afraid to hold for long minutes as their meanings change. (The rigor of his approach is also demonstrated by the fact that there is not a single close-up in the entire film.) The Suspended Stride of the Stork stars Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni, but fans of the latter should beware: the Italian actor was heard to complain that in spite of spending five weeks in Greece shooting the film, his screen time accounts for less than 20 minutes. (PB) (Pipers Alley, 3:00)

*Actress

See listing under Friday, October 16. (Pipers Alley, 4:30)

*Angel of Fire

See listing under Friday, October 16. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

The Giving

See listing under Friday, October 16. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

*Another Girl, Another Planet and Born With Glasses

The talented New York independent Michael Almereyda proves his gothic, perversely appealing Twister was no fluke with this low-key, audacious 56-minute film about the romantic obsession and social dislocation of an East Village bohemian set. Poaching on the works of Jim Jarmusch and Hal Hartley (even casting, one of Hartley's actresses), the narrative charts the opposite romantic fortunes of two men (Barry Sherman and Nic Ratner), one married, the other single, who five on different floors in the same loft complex. Almereyda shot the film on the $45 children's pixel-vision video camera. The black-and-white visuals have a hypnotic grainy, almost blotchy texture (as Toronto film-festival programmer Kay Armatage has suggested, it's almost like pointillism). Every shot suggests a gritty authenticity, and an unforced lyricism emerges in the cast's idiosyncratic performances. Almereyda develops a play on language, behavior, and male longing through off-center humor and essentially naturalist style. Despite dark threads about alienation and rejection, there's something sweet and engaging at the center. The deadpan wit and loose, dramatic interplay beautifully mesh with cinematographer Jim Denault's freewheeling camera movements, which parallel the characters' jittery, frenetic experiences. Like another tenacious independent, Jon Jost, Almereyda has bypassed the usual financial entanglements that strangle so many filmmakers and uncovered a pure, unadulterated means of communication. More power to him. (PZM) On the same program, Greg Masuak's 50-minute fiction film Born With Glasses concerns the trip of self-discovery taken by a woman inspired by God in the form of a dead fly in her closet. (Music Box, 5:00)

The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez

See listing under Friday, October 16. (Pipers Alley, 5:30)

Strictly Ballroom

A real crowd-pleaser (the audience at the Toronto film festival voted it the most popular film out of a field of 350), Strictly Ballroom treats the already cartoonlike subject of competitive ballroom dancing, with its overprecise, exaggerated movements and extravagant costumes (have you ever seen Juliet Prowse introduce competitions on cable?), in marvelously over-the-top cartoonlike style--fast-paced, wacky, sexy, highly colored, too much fun. The story itself is reminiscent of numerous musicals, from early Warner Brothers epics right up to Dirty Dancing: The darkly handsome, gifted young dancer Scott Hastings tries to introduce some of his own flashy steps into the ritualistic routines prescribed by the Dance Federation, ruling body of the competitions. His ditsy partner Liz punishes him by leaving him partnerless, making it look like Scott has lost not only his chance at the grand prix but his standing in the dance world. Then he hooks up with the clumsy, shy Fran, who has worshiped him from afar and whose father turns out to be a master performer of an intense, sexy flamenco, and when she loosens her curly locks from that tight little bun--she's beautiful! Once the duo learn the flamenco, adding a few pyrotechnics of Scott's, there's no stopping them. The Dance Federation may shudder and fume, but audiences (both in and of the movie) stand up and cheer. (MB) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

The Harvest

David Marconi's American feature follows a frustrated Hollywood screenwriter to Mexico, where, in the course of researching a murder, he gets abducted after meeting a beautiful woman and going on a midnight swim; he awakes days later to find one of his kidneys missing. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

Martha and I

Well-intentioned, highly competent humanist mush from Czech director Jiri Weiss, set mainly in pre-World War II Prague and environs, about a lovable, well-to-do doctor (Michel Piccoli), a nonpracticing Jew with a fine literary porn collection and a taste for playing the organ, and his lovable and devoted German housekeeper (Marianne Sagebrecht). His lovable nephew, the narrator, gets sent to live with the doctor after making out with a family servant. After the doctor's marriage collapses when he catches his Hungarian wife cheating on him, he ups and marries his housekeeper, and all hell breaks loose, especially with the housekeeper's racist brother. Then, after Hitler invades Austria, the doctor loses his job, his house, his organ, and, to save his wife's life, his marriage. Sagebrecht and Piccoli are as skilled as ever, although one has to put up with Piccoli and a lot of Czech actors dubbed into German. A tear-jerking crowd-pleaser that has already won its share of festival prizes, this serves to remind us all that Nazism was the cause of misery for a lot of lovable people (1990). (JR) (Music Box, 7:00)

*An Independent Life

Film-school dropout Vitaly Kanevski, born in 1935, burst into the international limelight in 1989 with his belated first film, Freeze--Die--Come to Life, which he made after decades as a manual laborer and a Brezhnev-era prisoner. It was a bold recreation of his fierce, stunted boyhood, which he spent roughing it on the outer edges of the Soviet Union, where his mother toiled for a gulag prison. In An Independent Life Kanevski continues his Dickensian autobiographical saga into his tortured teenage years; suspended from school, he wanders through bleak terrain in search of relatives. Kanevski is one of a kind, an obsessive natural filmmaker with a hellish life story to tell, and this film contains images that at are unforgettably horrible: a feverish, craven, slow-witted nymphomaniac turning school into a round-the-clock gang bang; a helter-skelter circus of squealing rats set on fire. It's not for the squeamish, which is probably why despite its merits it has yet to attract an American distributor. (GP) (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Chain of Desire

See listing under Friday, October 16. (Pipers Alley, 7:30)

In the Soup

Working with a slyly comic Lower East Side story, crisp black-and-white photography, and a strong cast, New York-based indie director Alexandre Rockwell, in his fourth feature outing, has crafted a hip crowd-pleaser. Goggle-eyed Steve Buscemi (whose resemblance to Don Knotts cannot go unremarked) stars as Adolfo Rollo, a would-be filmmaker forced to sell his epic screenplay to pay the rent. The lone interested party is Joe (Cassavetes regular Seymour Cassel), an exuberant con man of enormous charm. Joe seems intent on playing producer--or, as he puts it, getting "in the soup" with Adolfo. But ultimately it is Adolfo who gets in the soup with Joe, becoming involved in his shady schemes. Joe's antics wear a little thin in the final 20 minutes, and the ending is a tad weak, but overall the film is a lot of fun. Jennifer Beals (the director's wife) is convincing as the Hispanic waitress Adolfo worships, while Will Patton, Jim Jarmusch, Carol Kane, and Stanley Tucci provide memorable cameos. Winner of the prize for best, dramatic feature at the 1992 Sundance film festival. (AS) (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

Close to Eden

The stranger-in-a-strange-land theme has served as the vehicle for cultural self-discovery in literature and cinema as far-ranging as Gulliver's Travels, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Dances With Wolves. In Nikita Mikhalkov's Close to Eden a truck-driving Russian everyman named Sergei is stranded on the Inner Mongolian steppe, where he is rescued by a local shepherd named Gombo. The two make strange bedfellows, but hospitality is extended nevertheless, and we get to experience Mongolian family values up dose through Sergei's parochial eyes. These folk are at times portrayed as a little bit too cuddly, but the tone never becomes condescending thanks to the winning performances of Gombo's family and the apparent sincerity of all involved. Highlights include the daughter's buoyant performance of "Capriccio Espagnol" on the accordion, Gombo's first trip to the pharmacy to buy condoms, and breathtaking scenery. (WL) (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

My New Gun

What is the delicious Debbie Bender (Diane Lane) doing trapped in a wall-to-wall-carpeted tract town house and a tedious marriage to fatuous, old-fashioned Gerald (Stephen Collins)? Even she isn't sure. But when her husband gifts her with a gun that she doesn't want, her life is changed in very unexpected ways. Yes, the gun introduced in act one does eventually go off, per Chekhov, but this is more about the new than the gun. Quite fresh, My New Gun is something of a quirky romantic comedy--nothing is quite what it seems, and you're kept pleasantly off-balance and constantly entertained by new revelations of character. The charm of Lane's mysterious across-the-street neighbor (James Le Gros) is uncovered slowly, as is his relationship to the equally mysterious woman (Tess Harper) who lives with him--or does she? Young first-time director Stacy Cochran (who graduated from film school just last year) has a light, deadpan touch and elicits wonderful performances in one of this year's best independent films--in a very good year for independents. (MB) (Music Box, 9:00)

*Reservoir Dogs

See listing under Friday, October 16. (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

*Love

The new element at work these days in Russian and Eastern European films is the unexpected. It's not introduced in the traditional guise of the O. Henry ironic twist or the noir unwitting descent into nightmare, but as the simple condition of taking any step in any direction. Valery Todorovsky's impressive first feature, Love, revolves around the sexual advice and adventures of two young men: Vadim, the consummate lover and experienced rakehell, and his naive, no-luck-with-the-women friend Sasha. Their stories intersect, overlap, join, and separate in free-for-all counterpoint throughout the film. Vadim's love story proceeds with the vigor and elan of a picaresque 18th-century romp: stark naked, he playfully tiptoes behind his inamorata's unsuspecting deaf maiden aunt as she takes her evening nip of sherry at the sideboard. Meanwhile, in apparently traditional puberty-comedy style, Sasha's attempts to get to first base continually bog down--first in the snow during interminable walks to get the mail, then in the strange silences surrounding mysterious, phone calls at the crowded apartment of his would-be girlfriend's family. But appearances can be deceiving. What starts as a puberty comedy soon turns into a personal confrontation with a hitherto unknown anti-Semitism all the more virulent for its facelessness. (RS) (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

Amazing Grace

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

Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me

See listing under Friday, October 16. (Music Box, 11:00)

Benny's Video

Although difficult to watch and even more difficult to like, Benny's Video commands respect for its intellectually refined and uncompromisingly bleak vision of a complacent consumer society numb to all feeling. Fourteen-year-old Benny comes from a family rich in material possessions, but emotionally impoverished and noncommunicative. His relation to the outside world is mediated entirely by technology: even the view from his shuttered bedroom window appears on a video monitor. Benny's alienation is so grave that he commits a heinous act, captured on videotape, just to "see what it's like." When his parents see the tape, their reaction is equally chilling. They express no shock, no outrage, no moral judgment; their only concern is to return to the status quo of their comfortable lives. Austrian director Michael Haneke (The Seventh Continent) considers the film part of "a report on the progressive emotional glaciation of my country." He lays out his thesis with objective camera work and low-key performances from the three central players, never indulging viewers in seductive techniques or telling them what to think. This cool treatment of an inherently hot topic should make it one of the most discussed films at the festival. (AS) (Pipers Alley, 11:00)

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 18

Rising to the Bait

A German film by director Vadim Glowna that argues you don't have to teach an old dog new tricks--she'll discover them on her own and throw in a few more for good measure. An old woman living on the little island of Rugen, in what used to be East Germany, is awakened to the possibilities of capitalism and has a most collective response. Seeing demand, she organizes supply. And all those who thought they were out of it, beyond control or usefulness, discover they need only bait the hook and reel in the bloodsuckers.

The bait in this case is the old woman's quaint farmhouse, which overlooks the sea and adjoins a soon-to-be-evacuated Soviet military base. Steering a precarious course between the obtuseness of compulsive secrecy (German intelligence officers, having undisclosed plans for the property, try to wheedle, intimidate, and blackmail their way into ownership) and the self-delusional dreams of capitalism (rich prospective farm buyers seeking a taste of the "simple life"), she, with the help of half the island, manipulates the manipulators, and a good time is had by all. (RS) (Pipers Alley, 1:00)

Cows

If nothing else Spanish director Julio Medem's first feature is a strong film. Beginning with the Second Carlist War and ending with the Spanish Civil War, Cows presents brutal imagery that lingers long in the mind whether one wants it to or not. The film is a sharply divided triptych spanning three generations. At the center of things is the fierce competitiveness between rival woodchoppers from adjacent Basque farms. Woodchopping may sound sylvan and benign, but from the opening credit sequence--an ax swung with ferocious force over and over again, striking between the bare feet of a precariously balanced log cutter-it is quite apparent that these woods are dark, deep, and swarming with madness. Yet the terms of this madness are so particular, so sealed off--scythe-swinging scarecrows, bottomless pits, cows with no hooves, a straw-and-wood effigy booby trap out of some primitive museum--that they do little but blankly reflect the effects of insularity. Thus perhaps the film's occasional adoption of a cow's-eye view (the camera zooms into and out of bovine eyeballs)--searching for some perspective, it finds only a deep desire, fully shared by the audience, for escape. (RS) (Pipers Alley, 1:00)

The Giving

See listing under Friday, October 16. (Pipers Alley, 1:00)

To Liv(e)

This film, the first feature by former film critic and novelist Evans Chan, will surprise those who equate Hong Kong cinema with kung fu stunts and slapstick comedies. Chan's intensely personal approach to Hong Kong politics is marked by an ability to play with the deconstructive strategies of Western postmodernism. In the wave of middle-class immigration anticipating the reunification with mainland China in 1997, Rubie, a magazine editor upset by Liv Ullmann's indignant protest at the treatment of Vietnamese refugees in the crown colony, becomes acutely aware of her own status as a "displaced person." "Hong Kong doesn't belong to itself," wrote the late Cahiers du Cinema critic Serge Daney, and the film is built around this dispossession, until the melancholy ending, when Rubie passes out and disappears into nightmarish fantasies. This causes her to miss one of the most important moments of her life: her beloved brother's departure to Australia. The irony of the situation is that he emigrates for love, not politics, to live in peace with an older woman who has left her family for him (still a major taboo in Chinese society). In To Liv(e) the personal is indeed political, as the crisis of Chinese identity currently experienced by Hong Kong residents unfolds through a series of discrete vignettes--some tender, some erotic, some slightly didactic. My favorite is the disastrous lunch where Rubie's working-class parents meet her brother's "fallen woman." Evans Chan is a filmmaker to watch. (BR) (Pipers Alley, 1:00)

*Another Girl, Another Planet and Born With Glasses

See listing under Saturday, October 17. (Music Box, 1:00)

Stempenue

In turn-of-the-century Russia a beautiful bride finds herself trapped in the house of her in-laws and neglected by her academic husband when an attractive young musician turns up and falls in love with her. An Israeli film in Hebrew by Dan Wolman (1990). (Spertus College of Judaica, 1:00)

*The Elementary School

This first feature by 26-year-old Czech Jan Sverak is one of those rare comedies with gags so irresistibly orchestrated and impeccably timed that just remembering a scene makes you crack up all over again. Set in 1945, its hero is a ten-year-old boy, but this time, for a change (and change there's been), childhood is not bathed in nostalgia. Rather it's full of an untamed postwar energy that's too big for its britches, exploding all over the place in well-meaning but inevitable chaos. After our hero and. his unruly classmates have driven their teacher insane (with a fixed beatific smile on her ink-splattered face, she calmly walks off into the sunset), a very different figure comes striding into their lives--a military man from the tip of his highly polished boots to the twinkle in his eye for all the passing ladies and the adult world begins to hold far more fascination than any childhood prank. (RS) (Pipers Alley, 3:00)

Sevillanas

An homage to the dance known as sevillanas, the basis of all flamenco and the combination of steps dancers learn first in classes all over the world. Unhappily, this film will probably please neither the cognoscenti nor the aficionados, who may remember the fire and eroticism of Carlos Saura's earlier work Carmen. Based on the premise that there are many varieties of sevillanas, Saura shows us young dancers and old dancers, peasant versions and theatrical performances. After a while it all just becomes tedious, and the staged setting produces a claustrophobic air. It might have been exciting to see at least one scene in the Gypsy neighborhoods, where children have sevillanas down cold by age seven. The good news is that you don't have to worry about reading the subtitles--there aren't any. (PE) (Pipers Alley, 3:00)

The Land Behind the Rainbow

See listing under Friday, October 16. (Pipers Alley, 3:00)

Best Documentaries

A program of documentaries running between 20 and 40 minutes selected by Richard Berr. We don't have any titles or names of filmmakers as we go to press, so consider this potluck, serendipity, or, in that all-purpose catchphrase, whatever. (Music Box, 3:00)

*Angel of Fire

See listing under Friday, October 16. (Pipers Alley, 3:15)

Especially on Sunday

Four episodes make up this Italian composite film, all penned by Antonioni's ace screenwriter Tonino Guerra (L'avventura, La notte), but only three survived the cut for the American release. None of these decidedly lightweight short films comes off as significant. The wry first episode, uniting Cinema Paradiso director Giuseppe Tornatore and star Philippe Noiret, is certainly the most crowd-pleasing, though Roger Corman and Vincent Price could have done the same Poe-like comedy in their sleep: a grouchy cobbler is followed about by a mongrel dog with a blue spot on its head. The cobbler disowns it, denies it, even shoots it, and the dog keeps coming back for more, even from beyond the grave. The second episode, directed by Giuseppe Bertolucci, is dull and decadent, with Bruno Ganz stopped on the road and cloyingly played with by a tiresome incestuous brother-sister team. The sister is pouty Ornella Muti of Swann's Way fame. The third episode, directed by Marco Tullio Giordaria, is the most psychologically compelling: an old woman confesses to her priest that she obsessively watches her son and daughter-in-law make love night after night. (GP) (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

My Michael

One of the classics of the Israeli cinema, My Michael is an adaptation of a novel by acclaimed Israeli writer Amos Oz. The story deals with the mental disintegration of a young Jewish woman living in Jerusalem in the 1950s. In many ways the city becomes as much a protagonist as the woman herself. Director Dan Wolman handles the story with sensitivity, especially given the problem of trying to re-create the novel's first-person narrative from the depressed heroine's point of view. Like the novel, the film reverberates with political significance and the new realities of postindependence, which may not be immediately apparent to non-Israeli viewers. Though the pacing is a little slow given American tastes, it is worth the effort just to see the depiction of Israel during this period and the fine performances of the whole cast. Part of the retrospective of films by Wolman. (PE) (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

The Pannwitz's Stare

Didi Danquart's documentary falls into Germany's recent tradition of serious essay film, spearheaded since the early 80s by directors like Hartmut Bitomsky and Haroun Farocki. More than simply documentary coverage, The Pannwitz's Stare also represents a point of view aggressively shaped through idiosyncratic form and analysis of images in a counterpoint that extends particularly to the included Third Reich archival footage. Self-determination by physically disabled people in German society is the film's primary concern. Among those who appear are a woman born without arms due to her mother's use of the drug thalidomide, who questions society's lack of acceptance of an imperfect body, and a woman totally immobilized by multiple sclerosis who has made the decision to die. These and other variously disabled men and women articulate their relationship to mainstream concepts of what's "normal" with a directness and authority that dominates the film. Stylistically, Danquart presents these interviews in a visually engaging manner while graphically emphasizing the spiritual isolation of the speakers. Like a perverse chorus, clips from Nazi propaganda films promote a pseudoscientific rationale for genetically pure breeding of humans and for doing away with the insane, terminally ill, and disabled. The film is slow and multilayered, but in time it gathers clarity and power. (BS) (Music Box, 5:00)

Strictly Ballroom

See listing under Saturday, October 17. (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

The Harvest

See listing under Saturday, October 17. (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

*Gas Food Lodging

Nora (Brooke Adams) is a hard-luck waitress at the Pull-Off Plaza Truck Stop in Laramie, New Mexico, with two teenage daughters to reckon with: dreamy Shade (Fairuza Balk), who spends her days at the Bijou enraptured by Mexican melodramas, and devil-may-care Trudi (Ione Skye), who squanders her nights with men in the backseats of trucks and automobiles. All three pine for good relationships and the good life. Allison Anders's first feature is warm, poignant, and sensitively directed--a "women's film" in the best sense, with intelligence and heart. Fairuza Balk is a find as the teenage ingenue, and glamorous Brooke Adams settles into a mature "mom" role with grace. This screening is a first peek at what could prove to be this year's best-loved American independent film. (GP) (Music Box, 7:00)

*Love

See listing under Saturday, October 17. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

Bullets for Breakfast

Not a film for those who like strong narratives with clear characters, this full-length experimental feature (77 minutes) makes real intellectual demands on its audience. The audience is amply rewarded with a fascinating display of the power of technology to produce art and make us think. The entire film was produced on an optical printer, as were all of director Holly Fisher's previous, shorter films, clearly an outgrowth of Fisher's work as an editor (on, for instance, the Oscar-nominated documentary Who Killed Vincent Chin?). Through this technical device, Fisher provocatively juxtaposes--literally, through double exposure--postcard images of women taken from the entire history of Western art with some eight-millimeter footage of John Ford's classic My Darling Clementine she found in a closet. A network television documentary about women workers losing their jobs in a Maine smokehouse is also neatly deconstructed in the process, but with no overt intervention by the filmmaker. Even the sound track becomes a field of clashing perspectives, as the voice of a male pulp-western writer contrasts with that of feminist' poet Nancy Nielsen. But Fisher's quiet, subtle feminism convinces through suggestion rather than finger-pointing; an added delight is that her double-exposed images, reminiscent of early Rauschenberg, are quite beautiful. (PB) (Music Box, 7:00)

Close to Eden

See listing under Saturday, October 17. (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Money

"Life is a training ground for business," says Kamel, a Tunisian-born Candide who lucks his way from Parisian street scams to what the press notes call "the dog-eat-dog world of chocolate chickens." Philippe Galland's film, cowritten by Catherine Breillat (who made 1988's frank, effective 36 Fillette, about a girl's unpleasant coming of age), shows a charming light touch with tough issues of racism, cross-cultural romance, and bootstrap advancement. Kamel, who sees business as "magical," falls in love with Edwige, the beautiful daughter of a candy wholesaler. Recognizing Kamel's initiative, her father hires him. The result is a brisk series of conflicts with Kamel's Arab friends, Edwige's French friends (who think Kamel is Italian), his strict Muslim family, and the couple's own raging hormones. But much of the story's charm comes from Galland's energetic filmmaking, which fills the screen with street markets, graffiti, bright colors, and fresh faces to the strains of Arabic pop and slangy taunts. Galland's Paris is like all modern metropolises when they're closely examined: a bustling multiethnic souk, an infinity of romantic combinations, productive complications, and crossing paths. (Pride) (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Short Program I

Florence Dauman's All About Lurleen and Driss Deiback's Sandy from the U.S., Jackie Farkas's Amelia Rose Towers from Australia, Mathieu Kassovitz's Assassins and White Nightmare from France, Benjamin Ross's My Little Eye and Tom Hooper's Painted Faces from the U.K., Odd Sye's RC II from Norway, and Robert Wynne-Simmons and Hannah Kodicek's Scherzo, a United Kingdom/Czechoslovakia coproduction. (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

Martha and I

See listing under Saturday, October 17. (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

*Changing Our Minds: The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker

This deeply moving documentary focuses on the remarkable life of Evelyn Hooker, the pioneering psychiatrist who in the 1950s almost single-handedly refuted the medical establishment's belief that homosexuality was a form of mental illness. Now in her 80s, Dr. Hooker recounts her lengthy career, from her experience as an American doctoral student in Hitler's Germany studying the psychology of Nazi politics to her friendship with members of the gay underground in Los Angeles, which served as the impetus of her life's work. Until the 1950s the psychiatric establishment deemed homosexuality a "sociopathic personality disorder," leading to "cures" that included electroshock therapy, lobotomies, massive hormone injections, and, for some lesbians, hysterectomies--deeds that the film documents with some chilling archival footage. Dr. Hooker, discovering that there had never been any thorough studies done on homosexuality, used the establishment's own diagnostic standards in her meticulous research, which overturned conventional wisdom and put an end to the barbaric treatment of gays and lesbians by much of the psychiatric community. Dr. Hooker's achievements are impressive in and of themselves, but it's the way her decency, humor, and compassion radiate through the film that makes it so worth seeing. (Pendleton) (Music Box, 9:00)

Brats

See listing under Saturday, October 17. (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

The Turning

The Harnishes are a fractured family in a small American coalmining town; the husband (Raymond J. Barry) and wife (Tess Harper) are on the eve of their divorce decree when their son (the scary and effective Michael Dolan) suddenly returns after four years on the road with some unexpected neo-Nazi philosophical baggage. The son's newfound rightist idealism requires that his family stay together despite its cold, distant history. His rage is expressed in blasts of extremist rhetoric and, once that fails, in attacks on his father's new love (Karen Allen). Adapted from Chris Ceraso's play Home Fires Burning by Ceraso and director L.A. Puopolo and handsomely shot in wintry, rusticated Pocahontas, Virginia, The Turning has undeniable pictorial and emotional strengths, but it's too rooted in its theatrical origins to be truly memorable. While the speech of the characters is never condescendingly written and often sings with vernacular poetry, the breadth of insight displayed by all the characters is unconvincing. There's also a distracting, portentous score that only underlines the story's form as one long anticlimax, a simmer without a boil. (Pride) (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

Amazing Grace

See listing under Saturday, October 17. (Pipers Alley, 11: 00)

MONDAY, OCTOBER 19

Rising to the Bait

See listing under Sunday, October 18. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Brats

See listing under Saturday, October 17. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Floch

Probably the least seen of all Israeli director Dan Wolman's films, Floch is the story of an old man's search for meaning and satisfaction. Filmed in black and white, its gritty, distended look is in keeping with the subject of the work. The plot focuses on Floch's desire to have a child after the deaths of his son and daughter-in-law. Though the film follows his efforts to find a young wife with wry humor, it's also a philosophical parable about people seeking to change their fate and a tale of the desperate desire for Jewish continuity after the Holocaust. Coscripted by the satirist Hanoch Levine, whose sardonic humor and surrealism often leave a bitter aftertaste, it may make some viewers uncomfortable--but that's the point. Part of the retrospective of films by Wolman. (PE) (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

The Pannwitz's Stare

See listing under Sunday, October 18. (Music Box, 5:00)

Lenin, the Lord and Mother

Jan Schmidt was seemingly visited by the 30-year-old spirits of both the Czech and French new waves in making his gentle comedy of a boy's childhood in postwar Prague. While neither ground breaking nor flashy, it's nonetheless funny and poignant as kind of a Czech version of The 400 Blows. Unlike a number of other recent Eastern European films that have examined the Stalinist 50s through a child's eyes, inevitably emphasizing hardship and coercion in a tainted coming of age, this picaresque film conveys levity and innocence even in its darkest moments. The young hero lives with his small sister, his divorced mother, and her on-and-off-again lover. Whether it's choosing a religion or choosing to run away from home, biting the teacher or breaking the family bidet, the incidents of his mischief-prone life sketch both the comedy and terror of childhood. The secret of the film's charm is that it sees with a child's priorities: mom and the teacher are far more fearsome authorities than Comrade Lenin, and adult doings are always irrational, mysterious, and uncontrollable. (BS) (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

Prague

A young Brit (Alan Cummings) obsessed with the tragedy of his family in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia travels to Prague hoping to locate a snippet of documentary footage that will unlock the mystery of what really happened to his grandparents and mother. As he searches he becomes romantically entwined with a mysterious archivist (Sandrine Bonnaire) and her weird beau (Bruno Ganz). The best thing about Prague is its architectural views of the fabulous city; a fine international cast is wasted on underwritten roles, and because of director Ian Sellar's lethargic story telling the narrative goes nowhere . . . until the strangely stirring ending. (GP) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

Sevillanas

See listing under Sunday, October 18. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

*The Elementary School

See listing under Sunday, October 18. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

In the Soup

See listing under Saturday, October 17. (Music Box, 7:00)

*An Independent Life

See listing under Saturday, October 17. (Pipers Alley, 7: 15)

As You Like It

Christine Edzard's Little Dorrit (1987) is and will remain for some time the best screen adaptation of Dickens. In The Fool (1990) she created her own Victorian triple-decker in which the sounds, textures, and look of late-19th-century London flowed around a Dickensian-Gissing-like tale of greed and class hostility. Both were glorious examples of what the historical film might be and how classic literature can be brought to stunning life by maintaining a firm grasp on the atmosphere and mentality of its historical context. Alas, in As You Like It she has simply given us a somewhat more than adequate version of the Shakespeare comedy set in modern industrial times. The reason for the contemporary setting is never clear; it seems merely a whim on the part of the director and her first-rate production team. The acting is always fine--if never outstanding--and the text is understood and intelligently rendered. That would be praise enough--considering how seldom first- or even second-rate Shakespeare can be found in film. Nonetheless, Edzard has set such high standards for herself that one cannot but be disappointed. (DO) (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

Romper Stomper

Sex, drugs, rock and roll, and racism--if you've ever wanted to spend a few days with a swell bunch of Australian skinheads, here's your chance. Gabe, a porcelain-skinned neo-hippie drug addict, falls in with a gang of neo-Nazi skins and their mesmerizing leader, Hando. Violent dancing, violent fucking, and just plain violence--ugly rumbles with Melbourne's Vietnamese youth--ensue. As a little treat, Gabe leads her new pals on a rampage through a mansion that turns out to belong to her inappropriately affectionate father, setting up the disintegration of the gang. When Hando tires of her, Gabe turns her gaze on his inarticulate, good-hearted (well, as good-hearted as neo-Nazis get) best friend, Davey, who's almost as good-looking and certainly as sexually inventive as Hando. Their little fling sets up the inevitable murderous finale on a rocky, barren little beach that's just as uncomfortable as the ratty urban spaces they're fleeing. Not exactly a Jules and Jim for the 90s, Romper Stomper has all the visceral pleasures of a propulsive exploitation movie, plus the sensation that it's a window into a real world--an exploitation movie with a brain. (MB) (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

The Turning

See listing under Sunday, October 18. (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

The Divine Comedy

Possibly the worst feature (1991) made by the greatest of all Portuguese filmmakers, Manoel de Oliveira. While it's delightful to see the festival being attentive to such a neglected figure--de Oliveira, currently in his mid-80s, has been active since the late silent era--it would be a pity if the relative longueurs of the present feature (which runs 140 minutes) discouraged viewers from seeing the four-hour Doomed Love (1978) and three-hour Francisca (1981) when they become locally available again, or Day of Despair, released this year. But even at his most pedantic, de Oliveira is never entirely devoid of interest. In this case, despite the title, his source is mainly Dostoyevski--especially Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov--although the Bible, Tolstoy, and Nietzsche are also quoted at some length. The setting is a rural insane asylum where most of the inhabitants, including the beautiful and soulful Maria de Medeiros (whose portrayal of Anais Nin was perhaps the best thing about Henry and June), imagine themselves to be famous literary characters. The conceit has a certain promise, but it eventually nails you into the floor with its literalism. Enter at your own risk, but don't abandon all hope; you might even like it. (JR) (Music Box, 9:00)

The Suspended Stride of the Stork

See listing under Saturday, October 17. (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 20

Romper Stomper

See listing under Monday, October 19. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

As You Like It

See listing under Monday, October 19. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Amazing Grace

See listing under Saturday, October 17. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

The Divine Comedy

See listing under Monday, October 19. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Bullets for Breakfast

See listing under Sunday, October 18. (Music Box, 5:00)

Highway Patrolman

Alex Cox's first film since his recent move to Mexico follows the story of a young Mexican highway patrolman from his days as an earnest trainee at an authoritarian police academy to his progressive corruption while patrolling a desolate desert highway in search of contraband. Eventually the death of his partner at the hands of drug traffickers jolts him into a delirious one-man crusade to bring down the entire highway's formidable drug-trafficking enterprise. Though it's not a particularly original story, Cox successfully infuses his aggressive visual style and strong sense of fatalism with charm and wit, and his exquisite use of the desert landscape lends the film an almost hallucinatory quality, punctured occasionally by his trademark use of explosive violence. Cox never blends all of the various elements as smoothly or successfully as he did in Sid and Nancy, but he is deft enough to make this a compelling film to watch. (Pendleton) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

Hide and Seek

Israeli filmmaker Dan Wolman's 1980 feature provides a telling commentary on the social and political life of Israel in the mid-40s. Set in Jerusalem in 1946, Hide and Seek is a suspense thriller that revolves around a 12-year-old boy, his mother, his tutor, and a mysterious Arab. Seen from the child's point of view, things are not always what they seem. Wolman is expert at conveying a sense of social malaise and the pressures to conform as well as the effects of chronic militarization on Israeli citizens. Ahead of its time in many respects, it is as relevant today as to the Israel of its setting. Part of a retrospective of films by Wolman. (PE) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

My New Gun

See listing under Saturday, October 17. (Music Box, 7:00)

Cows

See listing under Sunday, October 18. (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

Lenin, the Lord and Mother

See listing under Monday, October 19. (Pipers Alley, 7:30)

Towards Evening

In her second film Italian newcomer Francesca Archibugi once again casts her closely observant eye upon the Italian bourgeois family. This time Sandrine Bonnaire plays the bohemian daughter-in-law of an impeccably correct judge and gentleman, played by Marcello Mastroianni. Their clashes are predictable, but they're played out with intelligence. The fulcrum for their struggle is Bonnaire's daughter, Papere, whom she temporarily leaves with Mastroianni after separating from his estranged son. Papere is portrayed with exceptional delicacy--never too cute or too smart. As in her first film, Mignon e partita, Archibugi shows a very special talent for working with children, The film was made for Italian television and it shows, but the small canvas is etched with care and subtlety. (WL) (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

The Art of Animation

Animated shorts by Tim Webb, Peter Lord, Geoff Dunbar, Daniel Greaves, Richard Goleszowski, and Paul Berry from the UK; Jerzy Kucia from Poland; Christopher Hinton and Craig Welch from Canada; and Howard E. Baker and Matt O'Callaghan from the U.S. (Music Box, 9:00)

Rising to the Bait

See listing under Sunday, October 18. (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

*The Elementary School

See listing under Sunday, October 18. (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

To Liv(e)

See listing under Sunday, October 18. (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 21

To Liv(e)

See listing under Sunday, October 18. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

My Michael

See listing under Sunday, October 18. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Towards Evening

See listing under Tuesday, October 20. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Student Program II

Shorts by film students from the AFTRS in Australia, Brooks Institute, the University of California at Irvine, New York University, the NFTS in the UK, the Rhode Island School of Design, Wayne State University, and Wesleyan University. (Music Box, 5:00)

Romper Stomper

See listing under Monday, October 19. (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

Scapegoat

If the earnest depiction of a chosen subject were the only criterion for determining a film's quality, Dan Wolman's Scapegoat (1991) would be hailed as a masterpiece. Shown here as part of a five-film retrospective of the director's work, Wolman's latest effort provides a disarmingly straightforward look at the tensions that arise on a kibbutz as a group of young Jews, all recent immigrants from Arabic countries, clashes with native-born Israelis. Despite their common religious background, the cultural differences between the two groups proves overwhelming, and one might surmise that Wolman only introduces the conflict to illustrate the larger picture of heritage-related frictions fingering to this day within the Jewish sector of Israeli society. But quite apart from its social relevance, Scapegoat must also be judged as the feature film it aspires to be. On this end, the results are meager. The development of dramatic tension is slow and spotty, interrupted all too often by didactic diatribes on one subject or another. Several characters are introduced only to be relegated to oblivion shortly afterward, and even the film's appealing young protagonist, an Iraqi Jew, seems to lack conviction because his views appear to be dictated by the director's instantaneous needs. With a little more imagination, this film could have been much, much better. (ZB) (Spertus College of Judaica, 6:00)

Daens

This is the true life story of Adolf Daens, a 19th-century Belgian priest who infuriated the ruling class by speaking out against the miserable working conditions in town factories. His advocacy on behalf of the poor gained him mass popular support, but when he decided to run for political office, the town's politicians, businessmen, and church leaders conspired to destroy his reputation and his life's work. This is the kind of glossy, high-quality production PBS might run if it weren't in a foreign language. Though it's filled with the kind of annoyingly earnest liberal platitudes that tend to encumber films about religious martyrs, director Stijn Coninx does keep the film moving at a brisk pace, and he manages to work up enough genuine indignation in his viewers to hold their attention. Still, it's the kind of slick historical drama that doesn't seem altogether truthful. (Pendleton) (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

Black and White in Color

More on the absurdity of war, with some cute moments and a lot of ennui as a band of French colonists in Africa, belatedly learning that World War I is on, attack their German counterparts across the stream. Pretty tedious, and a sad waste of Catherine Rouvel, Renoir's luminous vision of femininity in Picnic on the Grass. (Dave Kehr) Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud (1976) and winner of an Academy Award for best foreign film. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

Money

See listing under Sunday, October 18. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

*The Nun and the Bandit

The Dutch-born, Australia-based Paul Cox follows up his superb A Woman's Tale with a fascinating, audacious thriller (adapted from E.L. Grant Watson's novel) concerning religion, sex, and depravity. The nephew (Chris Haywood) of a powerful mining baron, believing his father was denied his claim to a highly profitable deed, kidnaps the baron's granddaughter, whose aunt, a devout nun (Gosia Dobrowolska), insists on accompanying her. The nephew is helped by his two half brothers, a mentally handicapped young man and a half aborigine, who react violently against the nun's institutional authority. Finally it becomes a battle of wills between the nephew and the nun. Rather than pursue a linear resolution of the crime, Cox burrows into its psychological implications, creating a dark, angry essay about the sacred and the profane, fulfillment and loss, obsession and mental breakdown. It's sometimes overladen with symbolism, especially the water and religious imagery, and some stylistic experiments with different film stocks and subjective camera viewpoints don't work. But it's still an expressive film, particularly in the use of the jagged landscape to reflect the tortured relationship between the two principals. Haywood and Dobrowolska, two Cox regulars, are unusually good--fierce, unyielding, protective--and Nino Martinetti's cinematography finds a near-perfect balance between the burnished, paneled interiors and the terrifying Australian bush. (PZM) (Music Box, 7:00)

Oh, What a Night

Eric Till's Canadian sex comedy about a 17-year-old (Corey Haim) preoccupied with losing his virginity, who winds up getting involved with an older woman living with a drunk chicken poacher in the country. (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

They

Levan Zakareishvili's feature from Georgia in the former Soviet Union about disaffected youths during the Brezhnev era. (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

Highway Patrolman

See listing under Tuesday, October 20. (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

Daddy and the Muscle Academy

Gay men need no introduction to Tom of Finland. He was the first authentic gay pornographer-fantasist, and he was there when we needed him. His work rides that fine line between hilarity and true eroticism. No matter how seemingly hard the sadomasochistic elements in his drawings, Tom always injected a sense of tenderness and humor. His work not only influenced the way gay men saw themselves, it fed a wide variety of erotic-romantic fantasies. Much of this is pointed out in this first film study of his life and work, which includes a retrospective of hundreds of drawings from his first attempts to his last color originals, with the authority figures in uniforms, the black as Mandingo, and all the leather iconography as subjects. The film's weakness is that the connections between such material and fascistic attractions, fetish-racism, and other-generated identities are never really explored. Nonetheless, what is here is fine, and one at long last sees the real Tom in interviews talking about his formative experiences and the act of creation. (DO) (Music Box, 9:00)

*Brother's Keeper

Bill and Delbert Ward, retarded, codependent, dysfunctional siblings, dwelled in a shack in rural upstate New York and hid away from the world for 60 years. One day in 1990 Bill was found dead, and Delbert was arrested for his murder. That's when New York City documentarians Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky arrived with film cameras to record the bizarre happenings. Lucky for us! As things moved toward a murder trial, the locals got behind poor Delbert in an astounding show of community, and so does this movie's audience, because the Wards prove as lovable in their dirty, scummy, stupid, asocial way as Disney's seven dwarfs. Will Delbert be found guilty? There's not a movie moment in all of 1992 that's as tense as the announcement of the verdict. Brother's Keeper is an instant populist classic, the most appealing documentary since Michael Moore's Roger and Me. Better than Moore, Berlinger and Sinofsky spin their fine story without condescension, exploitation, or cynicism. (GP) (Pipers Alley, 9:15)

Memory of the Water

It's not nice to knock a film whose subject is the death of a Jew during the Holocaust, but there's not much in Hector Faver's ponderous and highly experimental semifictional biography to recommend. In fact, as the film unfolds, Faver manages to undo practically everything he initially sets out to accomplish. Through a series of elliptical vignettes and rambling monologues, one can make out the story of a man who is recalling his mother's experience in a Nazi concentration camp and trying to come to terms with the diary she left him. The film also involves his ruminations about his wife, his daughter, and perhaps a fourth woman, though it's rather hard to tell due to either poor subtitle translations or the script's own incoherence. Faver's use of some gruesome concentration-camp footage only cheapens the film and implies that he doesn't trust his own material. The film's pretentious artiness could easily be taken for parody if not for the gravity of the historical context. (Pendleton) (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 22

Memory of the Water

See listing under Wednesday, October 21. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

They

See listing under Wednesday, October 21. (Pipers Alley, 5:00)

Video Program I

Winners of the best videos in three categories--independent video, independent video documentary, and film/video mixtures; titles to be announced. (Music Box, 5:00)

Oh, What a Night

See listing under Wednesday, October 21. (Pipers Alley, 5:15)

The Divine Comedy

See listing under Monday, October 19. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

Hide and Seek

See listing under Tuesday, October 20. (Pipers Alley, 7:00)

Chicago's Winning 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. (Music Box, 7:00)

*The Nun and the Bandit

See listing under Wednesday, October 21. (Pipers Alley, 7:15)

A Brief Vacation

Vittorio De Sica was reunited with his favorite screenwriter, Cesare Zavattini (The Bicycle Thief) for this late effort (1973). But the old formula, of grimy social realism modulated into whimsy and romance, didn't take this time: the film is maudlin and exploitative. Florinda Bolkan is the simple peasant woman delivered from her brutal husband and grinding factory job when a doctor diagnoses tuberculosis and prescribes a stay in a mountain sanatorium. Exposure to patients from other classes raises her consciousness, and she's rewarded with a wistful, aristocratic lover (Daniel Quenaud). With Adriana Asti. (Dave Kehr) (Pipers Alley, 7:30)

Prague

See listing under Monday, October 19. (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

*Brother's Keeper

See listing under Wednesday, October 21. (Pipers Alley, 9:00)

Video Program II

See listing under this day for Video Program 1. (Music Box, 9:15)

Short Program II

From the U.S., Matthew Palmieri's Cruise Control, Martin Hudson's David & Michael on the Beach, and Charles Weinstein's The Gutter Song, from the UK, Carl Prechezer's The Cutter, from Australia, Penny Fowler-Smith's Damming, from Spain, Gustavo A. Fuertes's El juicio final; from Germany, Karin Bernard's Fugitive Encounter, and from France, Vincent Perez's L'echange. (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

Daens

See listing under Wednesday, October 21. (Pipers Alley, 9:30)

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