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Friday, October 11

29th Street

For once the blurb in the Film Festival guide is mainly right: “a delightful blend of Scorsese’s GoodFellas and Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.” For better and for worse, and delightfulness aside, this crowd pleaser is a blend of those two pictures–without, of course, being nearly as good as either one. Whether such a crass and semiincongruous blend makes much sense is another matter. An Italian American (Anthony LaPaglia) wins the first New York lottery on Christmas Eve, 1976, and is so upset about it that he winds up getting arrested for vandalizing a nativity scene in front of a church. Most of the remainder of the movie is a sort of “soft” GoodFellas flashback explaining why, with Danny Aiello chewing up scenery as the hero’s father and Lainie Kazan as his mother, though it returns to 1976 for the Capracorn finale. Apparently most of the story is based on the real-life experiences of Frank Pesce, who plays his own older brother in the movie and coauthored the original story with James Franciscus. This is the directing debut of writer-director George Gallo, who scripted Wise Guys and Midnight Run, and he does a fair enough job with the material. (JR) (Fine Arts, 6:30 and 9:30)

Little Secrets

Six women get together for a slumber party on the eve of their ten-year high school reunion to reminisce about their friendship and bare their souls. Written by Nancylee Myatt and based on her play, the film has some strong moments, but Myatt and director Mark Sobel seem unable to trust the original material enough to let it stand on its own and wind up interspersing a series of unnecessary black-and-white flashbacks to the women’s high school days, each accompanied by an obligatory musical “hit” from the 70s. The film also suffers from too many cliches: we get a litany of stories about who did it with whom in high school, how the homecoming queen was really insecure all along, how the most promiscuous of the women was the loneliest, and how they were jealous of one another over qualities that proved hollow. As a result the emotional payoffs in the film seem forced and never quite ring true. (RP) (Music Box, 7:00)

Branches of the Tree

This is the first of two offerings from the brilliant Satyajit Ray, who continues to work steadily in spite of his poor health, a fact that makes it virtually impossible not to read this film as deeply personal. On the same day that Majumdar, a local businessman noted for his virtue, celebrates his 70th birthday and the publication of his official biography, he’s stricken by a heart attack and sent home to his spacious palace for treatment. There he’s visited by his three distracted, estranged sons. The old man lives with his father and his fourth son, once the most intellectually promising but now brain-damaged from injuries sustained in a car crash. The setup leads to a series of revelations about hidden resentments, family secrets, and fraternal rivalries. Unfortunately, the narrative is leaden, overexplicit, and far too didactic to register as compelling art, and the characters come off as archetypes rather than believable human beings. There are some Ray signatures–the fetishized close-ups of objects, the focus on family dynamics–but the scenes don’t have any cumulative force. Despite all of that, there’s something about the movie that pulls you in, and the chance to fully contemplate Ray’s historically significant vision is alone reason enough to see it. (PZM) (Esquire, 7:00)


Peter Kern’s German feature about the love affair between a 14-year-old male hustler, who takes to the streets after being abused by his mother’s two alcoholic boyfriends, and a middle-aged married man. (Music Box, 9:00)

Queen of Diamonds

The most incredible moment in Queen of Diamonds is the 17-minute card-dealing sequence, shot with a variety of camera angles in a crowded, noisy casino in Las Vegas. Dominating the table is the card dealer, a cool, silent, beautiful young woman; the rest of the film, mostly shot with a static camera, shows the slow erosion of her poise. Queen of Diamonds, the latest jewel in the crown of independent filmmaker Nina Menkes (who writes, produces, and shoots her own films, and usually, as she did here, casts her sister Tinka in the starring roles) obsessionally reworks very personal themes: desert and water, thirst, physical discomfort, the cheap glamour of neon signs, a woman’s loneliness in a landscape that oppresses her. The film constantly surprises the viewer with unexpected images (an inverted cross, a burning palm tree, elephants surrounding a car accident), sharply composed and exquisitely shot, that are never gratuitously expressionistic but subtly vibrate with the protagonist’s unspoken emotions. Demanding but immensely rewarding, Queen of Diamonds may become for America in the 90s what Jeanne Dielman was for Europe in the 70s: a cult classic using a rigorous visual composition to penetrate the innermost recesses of the soul. (BR) (Esquire, 9:30)


The 1958 version of The Blob has been refurbished with a new sound track (wisecracks, sound effects, and music by the improv group L.A. Connection), something known as “color enhancement,” and a newly animated mouth for the title extraterrestrial, who makes some of the jokes. Jack H. Harris, the producer of the original, worked five years on this rehab project. (Music Box, 11:00)


Up until the cop-out finale, Barry Shils’s first feature, scripted by Joseph Minion (After Hours, Vampire’s Kiss), is so genuinely weird and outlandish in its midnight-movie-like delirium that you may have trouble believing your eyes and ears. The ten-year-old Candide-like hero (Jordan Christopher Michael) runs off with $20 and his father’s Mustang and becomes obsessed with a card-collecting game called Motorola promoted by filling stations along the highway. Barreling through imaginary states and encountering a lot of screwy individuals–there are cameos by everyone from Jack Nance to Shelley Berman (including Michael J. Pollard, Susan Tyrrell, Garrett Morris, Flea, Mary Woronov, Vince Edwards, Meat Loaf, and Dick Miller)–he gets mauled and mutilated but never loses sight of the prize promised at the end of the game. This movie constantly threatens to break loose into something wild and wonderful like The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T., but it never does; instead it eventua lly backpedals its way into total incoherence. (JR) (Esquire, 11:00)

Saturday, October 12

Angel Square

Will any kid used to grubby, sexist, racist, militaristic ultraviolent American movies want to see this polite Canadian children’s film? Edmonton director Anne Wheeler, who has made two of the best Canadian features in recent years, Loyalties (1986) and Bye Bye Blues (1990), attempted with Angel Square to make a movie that her demanding 12-year-old twin sons would like. Her strategy, quite simply, was to weld the noisy sound track, speedy editing, and post-Roger Rabbit animation of American movies into a traditional-values-oriented, multicultural Canadian story. The result is a film that parents will surely approve of and children might even enjoy too: a child-turned-amateur-detective tale set in the radio days and nights before Christmas 1946. Wheeler is good at post-World War II period atmosphere, and Jeremy Rudick is an appealing, intelligent boy hero. (GP) (Fine Arts, 1:00)


Women stand-up comedians have come of age, as evidenced by this vastly entertaining visit with a dozen or more of the funniest ones around. There’s a decidedly feminist consciousness to Canadian director Gail Singer’s National Film Board documentary: many of the sharpest comic routines Singer shows are aimed at deflating what men carry so proudly below their belts, and many of the women talk angrily about how they’re viewed suspiciously when they walk on the stage because audiences are brainwashed into expecting the usual sexist male comedy. Perhaps the most interesting discussion is about how the comedians handle the invariably male hecklers. At any rate, when Wisecracks is over, you’ll be checking the paper to find out when Joy Behar, Ellen Degeneres, or Canada’s brilliant, rubber-faced monologuist Sandra Shamas is descending on Chicago. And you’ll have new respect for Phyllis Diller. (GP) (Music Box, 1:00)

Incident at Oglala

Michael Apted’s 35 Up was scheduled for this slot but it was pulled by the producer at the last minute. It’s last-minute replacement is this Apted documentary narrated by Robert Redford, who served as executive producer, about the notorious “Pine Ridge incident” of June 1975, when two FBI agents illegally drove onto the Indian reservation and were killed, along with a Native American, in the resulting shootout. The death of the agents reportedly led to the biggest manhunt in the history of the FBI and the protracted persecution of one individual, Leonard Peltier, whose guilt is still widely debated. (Esquire, 1:00)

Wedding Guests

German director Niko Brucher’s 40-minute black-and-white film about the visit of a westerner to Poland before the end of the cold war. To be shown with group of German shorts. (Fine Arts, 3:00)

Men of Clay

B. Narsing Rao’s Indian feature depicts the hardships of a married couple who migrate to a city from a village blighted by drought and get jobs as construction workers. The husband becomes an alcoholic and falls in love with another woman laborer; the wife loses their savings to a con artist. (Music Box, 3:00)

*Spirit of the Beehive

A sensitive mood piece by Victor Erice centered on small children in a Spanish village in the 1930s. Ana Torrent, the extraordinary child actress (Cria), made her debut here at the age of five. Much in the film is derivative, but Erice excels in precise evocations of childhood feelings–there is one dumbfounding moment of lyrical, joyful horror (1973). (Dave Kehr) (Esquire, 3:30)

Scream of Stone

Werner Herzog directed this feature about the attempted scaling of Cero Torre, a granite peak in southern Patagonia. Two men start the climb together; one of them falls to his death halfway through, and his partner claims to have finished but has no proof of his feat. Another climber, the living partner’s former friend, fails to believe him, the two return for a second try. Donald Sutherland plays a journalist covering the event. (Fine Arts, 5:00)

The Long Conversation With a Bird

A film in German by Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Zanussi about a 14-year-old girl who falls in love with a 40-year-old English actor (Robert Powell) and accompanies him on a trip to Thailand; her mother, who also has designs on the actor, comes along as chaperon. (Music Box, 5:00)


A filmmaker investigates the murder of a working-class Montreal street kid in a French Canadian feature by Marcel Simard (Le grand monde). (Esquire, 5:30)

*Life Is Sweet

There’s more than a tinge of irony in the title of Mike Leigh’s beautifully observed and often hilarious comic film about an English working-class couple and their twin daughters. There’s plenty of bitter mixed in with the sweet: Dad dreams of escaping his job as an executive chef and invests in a broken-down lunch wagon, but breaks a leg before he can even get it cleaned out; Mom, prey to the worst kind of naughty-postcard and music-hall double entendre, undercuts every sentence with a high, almost hysterical giggle. One daughter is bulimic, agoraphobic, and into kinky sex, while her stolid, celibate twin works as a plumber’s mate and takes in an occasional beer at the pub. The constant nattering, mild hostilities, role-playing, and tension that make up family life–along with the bedrock of love and support–have never been better portrayed. Brilliant work from Jim Broadbent as the father, Alison Steadman as the mom, Claire Skinner and Jane Horrocks as the twins (unbelievably believable casting), Stephen Rea as the con-man neighbor, and Timothy Spall as a friend who opens the restaurant of your nightmares. This is an ensemble cast. (MB) (Music Box, 7:00)

The Boy Who Cried Bitch

Juan Jose Campanella’s first feature focuses on a disturbed 12-year-old boy (Harley Cross), the oldest of three wealthy brothers who attend a prep school, and their disturbed mother (Karen Young), whose Manhattan town house they visit on weekends. (Fine Arts, 7:15)

Another Hope

Mercedes Frutos directed this SF allegory from Argentina–receiving its world premiere, though it was made six years ago–about a man who goes to work in the village power plant, which has no visible source of energy and from which other workers mysteriously disappear. (Esquire, 7:30)

Cup Final

Cup Final is another of those well-meaning films regularly produced in Israel. During the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, an Israeli army photographer is taken hostage by a PLO platoon. His captors include a predictable mix of types: an elegant, European-educated PLO leader, an idealistic, bespectacled theoretician, a funny guy, a naive youngster, a strong silent type, and an embittered fighter who can’t forgive “what the Israelis did to his family.” But then the World Cup starts, and the photographer and the Palestinians strike a manly friendship watching the soccer ball get kicked around on every television screen they can put their hands on. One by one the protagonists die, but each death is quickly displaced by a more crucial question: who’s going to win the next game? When things end badly for the Palestinians, you can see in the sensitive gaze of the photographer how deeply the experience stirred him. Even the first-class cast can’t save the film; sadly, Cup Final is one of the best products of Israeli cinema. As a Palestinian filmmaker once asked me, why does it take Israelis an entire film to figure out that Palestinians are human beings too? (BR) (Fine Arts, 9:30)

The Mountain

All Swiss mountains are not equal; the most important one, at least in 1922, was the one that housed the highest weather station in Europe. This tiny outpost is the setting for Markus Imhoof’s intimate drama partly based on real events. The husband-and-wife team who staff the station are paid a visit by an unwelcome guest, an Austrian officer snubbed in the selection process for the post who now seeks revenge. A somewhat predictable sequence of events follows, the conflict compounded by the impossibility of leaving the station during the winter months. Imhoof hasn’t made a hit movie since 1980 (The Boat Is Full, a foreign-language Academy Award nominee), and he is unlikely to score well with this one. The Mountain has impressive technical values but few other merits. Poor delineation of the characters weakens the inherent drama, and without a gripping emotional hold the long middle passage of the film (shot entirely within the confines of the weather station) proves suffocating. A note for the squeamish: There is a scene in which frostbitten toes are removed with a pair of pincers; just close your eyes for 30 seconds, and everything will be fine. (ZB) (Music Box, 9:30)

It’s a Blue World

An experimental Danish film about the pornographic painter Hans Henrik Lerfeldt, his taste for kitsch and jazz, and his friendship with Chet Baker. Toben Skjodt Jensen directed. (Esquire, 9:30)

Liquid Dreams

American independent Mark Manos’s first feature tells of a nice midwestern girl (Candice Daley) who arrives at a baroque apartment building in LA and finds her sister dead of a drug overdose. She stays around to investigate and discovers weird, futurist orgies going on on the upper floors. What’s all this about? Nothing at all. This is a straight-to-video stupidity that would have been far, far better as an out-and-out porno film. The scandalous sex scenes are ludicrously tame: when was the last time you saw someone strip shamelessly down to her bra? There are appearances beginning and end (for those who make it) by ex-X member John Doe as a hard-ass taxi driver, and director Paul Bartel offers a cameo as a shoe fetishist. (GP) (Music Box, 11:30)

The Runestone

An enormous Norse rune stone is discovered in a coal mine in western Pennsylvania; one of three friends who proceeds to study it (Mitchell Lawrence) turns into a beast who disembowels people. Additional horrific and/or campy events are promised in this U.S. debut feature by Willard Carroll; with Joan Severance, Peter Riegert, and Alexander Godunov. (Esquire, 11:30)

Sunday, October 13

Cup Final

See review under Saturday, October 12. (Music Box, noon)

Life Is Sweet

See review under Saturday, October 12. (Fine Arts, 12:30 pm)

The Boy Who Cried Bitch

See review under Saturday, October 12. (Esquire, 1:00)


The celebrated Russian actor Ivan Mosjoukine stars in the title role of this silent (1927) comedy-drama directed in France by Alexander Volkoff, restored by the Cinematheque Francaise and accompanied by a new score composed by Georges Delerue. The running time is 134 minutes. (Music Box, 2:00)

The Robe

Based on Lloyd C. Douglas’s best-seller, The Robe is about Christ’s robe (the one diced over at the base of the cross) and its magic powers of lightning-and-thunder redemption. The garment ends up in the hands of the slave Demetrius (Victor Mature at his bustiest and most hilariously sincere). Richard Burton, slumming here, intones his renunciation of Roman paganism for the love of pure Christian maiden Jean Simmons (always incredibly beautiful no matter what dreck she’s given to say), and Jay Robinson does something (overacting is far too mild a term) with the role of the gay (read cruel and tortured) emperor. The screen of this first CinemaScope feature (1953) is overcrowded with extras and sets in an attempt to justify its size. The film is primitive in its fear of close-ups and moving camera–the story is told mostly in mid-shot tableaux–and the color (Twentieth Century-Fox’s cheapo version of Technicolor) tends to fade blue all too often (particularly noticeable toward the end). This could have been a lot more fun (like its sequel, Demetrius and the Gladiators) had someone with the vulgar panache of Cecil B. De Mille been directing. As it is, Henry Koster manages something like low-grade competence. (DO) (Fine Arts, 3:00)

*The Hunt

In this early (1966) film by Carlos Saura, a political allegory about the effects of the Spanish Civil War on the national psyche, three men who fought together under Franco reunite on a hunting expedition into the desert. Unable to come to terms with their pasts and their personal failures, the men take their hostility and rage out against harmless animals, but when the futility and emptiness of this become apparent, they begin to turn on one another. By relying largely on close-ups and extreme long shots as well as a stunning use of the desert landscape, Saura builds the tension and despair to a palpable intensity. Although the allegorical nature of the film (necessary in order to get it past Franco’s censors) makes for some occasional heavy-handedness, it is still a powerful and disturbing vision of the war’s social and psychological destruction of an entire generation. (RP) (Esquire, 3:00)

On the Wire

On the Wire is an ambitious project that comes close to delivering what it promises: a vision of apartheid from the side of the white minority. Wouter comes home after eight years in the army, haunted by the memory of the atrocities he committed against blacks. His wife Aletta is a stranger to him, but slowly, by sexually humiliating her, he drags her to the brink of his confusion. On the Wire starts as a subtle psychological suspense film, but director Elaine Proctor fails to avoid certain melodramatic pitfalls. Her major failure lies in the handling of the black maid’s character; first she’s the traditional subservient nanny, then she leaves the house in anger when discovering the truth about Wouter, and finally she comes back to Aletta, as if Wouter’s suicide at the end of the movie had cleansed the apartheid system of all its evils. In spite of the film’s shortcomings, it should absolutely be seen. It is a rare example of intellectual honesty that does what more white filmmakers should be doing: exploring how destructive prejudices are to those who hold them, as Bertolt Brecht once did with Nazi Germany. (BR) (Music Box, 5:00)

Sam and Me

Actor as auteur? In the last two years Ranjit Chowdhry has starred in two movies–Barry Alexander Brown’s Lonely in America and Deepa Mehta’s Sam and Me–in which he plays an Indian immigrant arrived in North America to work for his already- settled-in uncle. In the Toronto-set Sam and Me, for which Chowdhry also wrote the screenplay, his character Nikhil is farmed out by his uncle to be companion and guard to a disgruntled, uncommunicative, aging Jewish man, Sam Cohen (Peter Boretski). Sam wants to spend his last months in Israel, but his petty-bourgeois family keep him captive in their suburban home. Though the plot is predictable–Sam and Nikhil overcome age and cultural barriers and become friends–Sam and Me is warm and friendly without being oversentimental. There’s enough restraint in Deepa Mehta’s direction and sufficient grace to Chowdhry’s screenplay to make this a sophisticated filmic experience. Most poignant are the scenes in a bare-bones boarding-house apartment packed with new male immigrants to Canada. (GP) (Esquire, 5:00)

American Friends

Yet another attempt to recycle the Room With a View formula, this time with Monty Python alumnus Michael Palin in a serious role as a stuffy Victorian professor at Oxford. He raises the ire of his colleagues when the 17-year-old American girl he fell in love with during his summer vacation comes to visit and, despite strict regulations against getting involved, he tries to continue the relationship. He also has to fend off the amorous advances of the girl’s repressed travel guardian, all the while trying to get elected to the presidency of the university. The film is padded with a lot of beautiful scenery and overbearing classical music to compensate for a very flat romance, and the attempt to elicit humor by poking fun at pretentious Victorian mannerisms fails mainly because it’s such old material. (RP) (Fine Arts, 5:30)

Eline Vere

Belgian surrealist Harry Kumel, best known in this country for the delirious Daughters of Darkness, directed this Dutch feature, which focuses on a well-to-do Flemish woman (Marianne Basler) living in the Hague in the 19th century who can neither marry nor escape into the world outside her class, despite three separate romances. With Michael York and Thom Hoffman. (Music Box, 7:00)

Life for Life, Maximilian Kolbe

Krzysztof Zanussi, a perennial favorite of this festival, returns with a solemn, politically and religiously “correct” drama on the life of one of Poland’s best-known heroes of recent years, Franciscan priest Maximilian Kolbe. The title refers to a real-life event in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II whereby Kolbe offered to sacrifice his own life in place of another man sentenced to death. The priest was canonized in 1982. Zanussi has mostly managed to avoid creating an unbearably lofty paean to a larger-than-life religious martyr; the story is told, rather cleverly, from the viewpoint of a camp fugitive whose escape is the original reason for the retaliatory sentencing of ten inmates, including Kolbe, to death. In the years that follow, the man who gained freedom is torn by recurring feelings of guilt and responsibility for the deaths, especially since his life inexplicably keeps gravitating toward various people from Father Kolbe’s past. The inherent power of the subject matter is weakened significantly by the flatness of Kolbe’s lionized character and by the poor quality of the Polish-language dubbing for the film’s lead actor, Germany’s Christoph Waltz. (ZB) (Esquire, 7:00)

Necessary Love

Ben Kingsley and Marie-Christine Barrault star in this Italian feature by Fabio Carpi as lovers with an “open” relationship who ensnare a younger and more innocent couple in a game of reciprocal seduction. (Fine Arts, 7:30)

The Training of the Champion Before the Race

Bernard Favre’s French feature concentrates on a love triangle: a withdrawn man with a passion for bicycle racing, his devoted wife, and his sex-hungry mistress, the widowed owner of the butcher shop where he works. (Esquire, 9:00)

*The Footman

Also known as The Brownnose and The Yes-Man, The Footman’s Italian title literally translates as “the carrier of briefcases.” This smart political comedy by Daniele Luchetti bears the stamp of its producer and costar Nanni Moretti, one of Italy’s new generation of comic director-actors. The deadpan Moretti plays a smug young cabinet minister who hires Luciano (Silvio Orlando), an earnest but impish literature professor, as a speechwriting flunky. The story is told from Luciano’s point of view: first he’s thrilled by the world of privilege he’s thrust into, then appalled by the corruption of a system in which his boss (and former hero) turns out to be one of the most amoral and ruthless players. The Footman is full of dark, intellectual Euro-hip humor set in the rarefied atmosphere of Italian multiparty politics–especially worth catching for lovers of social and political satire. (BS) (Fine Arts, 9:30)

Assassin of the Tsar

The assassination of Czar Nicholas II and his family in 1918 has long been a fascinating subject for filmmakers (Nicholas and Alexandra, Anastasia). The most recent cinematic version of the story, a Soviet-British production directed by Karen Shakhnazarov, uses many documents only recently released by the Soviets, providing the most detailed account yet. The story is told obliquely, beginning in contemporary times. Malcolm McDowell plays an insane-asylum patient who believes that he is Yurovsky, the actual assassin of the czar. His doctor (Oleg Yankovsky) is skeptical of the man’s claims at first but changes his mind after he learns that many of the patient’s recollections of little-known details match historical records. The time frame alternates between present and past, and the fragile line separating reality from imagination often blurs, especially after the doctor decides to playact the character of the czar in an attempt to jog this patient’s memory. A meticulous rendition of historical scenes and fine acting by both McDowell and Yankovsky hold the film together, although its deliberate–at times even languid–pace may alienate many viewers. (ZB) (Music Box, 9:30)

Monday, October 14

American Friends

See review under Sunday, October 13. (Fine Arts, 4:00)

Necessary Love

See listing under Sunday, October 13. (Esquire, 5:30)

*Bigger Than Life

Nicholas Ray’s potent ‘Scope melodrama dealt with the ill effects of cortisone on a frustrated middle-class grammar school teacher (James Mason) at about the same time (1956) that cortisone and other “wonder” drugs were hitting the market. But the true subject of this deeply disturbing picture is middle-class values–about money, education, culture, religion, patriarchy, and “getting ahead.” These values are thrown into bold relief by the hero’s drug dependency and resulting megalomania–which leads to shocking and tragic results for his family (Barbara Rush and Robert Simon) as well as himself–but they’re already fully present before the hero becomes ill, and Ray’s impressive uses of ‘Scope framing and color to delineate the hero’s dreams and dissatisfactions have rarely been as purposeful. (It’s hard to think, moreover, of another Hollywood picture that has more to say about the sheer awfulness of “normal” American family life during the 50s.) With Walter Matthau in an early noncomic role as the hero’s best friend; scripted by Cyril Hume, Richard Maibum, and an uncredited Clifford Odets. Note: Existing ‘Scope prints of this film are extremely rare and never shown on American TV, so if you’ve ever wanted to see this corrosive masterpiece you shouldn’t pass up this opportunity. (JR) (Fine Arts, 6:00)

Good Evening, Mr. Wallenberg

This glossy Swedish-Hungarian coproduction is, like last year’s Korczak, a hagiography of a figure renowned for saving Jewish lives during World War II. The action takes place during the winter of 1944, Budapest’s darkest hour, with German occupation forces in disarray and the destruction of the ghetto’s 65,000 inhabitants imminent. It depicts both Wallenberg’s successes (as he uses the shield of diplomatic immunity to save entire truckloads of unfortunates from the death-camp trains) and his tragic failures (a grueling standoff with a Hungarian collaborator over the lives of 20 refugees). Unfortunately, it also tries to round out the portrait with pretentious soliloquies and a contrived relationship between Wallenberg and a suicidal Jewish woman. Although the very existence of Good Evening, Mr. Wallenberg is important lest the world forget the horrors of the Holocaust and the heroism of the still unaccounted for Swedish diplomat, this sanitized history lacks the emotional resonance of other films treating similar material (Agnieszka Holland’s Europa, Europa for instance). (AS) (Music Box, 7:00)

Speak, Little Mute

Manuel Gutierrez Aragon’s 1973 Spanish feature concerns a book publisher at the end of a summer holiday in a mountain village whose life undergoes a profound change when he encounters a mute shepherd girl and teaches her how to speak. (Esquire, 7:30)


Viktor Aristov’s Soviet shocker about a vagrant college dropout who murders his lover’s nine-year-old daughter, extracts kidnap money from her mother, rapes a friend’s bride, and turns to blackmail all without apparent motivation, in a feature that is said to be a commentary on contemporary Russian society (1990). (Fine Arts, 8:00)

The Arc

What makes Rob Tregenza’s second feature (after Talking to Strangers) a bit of a letdown is the fact that its conceptual program is much harder to follow than the achronological series of ten-minute takes that make up its remarkable predecessor. Once again, the main connecting thread is a single character (played by Jason Adams), viewed chronologically this time in discontinuous fragments over the arc of several years and various locations–ranging from Baltimore, where we first see him as a welder, to the southwest, where he appears to die and undergo a resurrection. The formal treatment of the material ranges from rapid montage (in the opening sequence) to more conventional editing to lengthy takes without any apparent consistent pattern. Tregenza remains a master cinematographer throughout, and the various ellipses between sequences are often as provocative as the sequences themselves. But the dialogue and the direction of the actors create zones of ambiguity that seem less functional here than they did in the existential encounters in Talking to Strangers; at times they seem to be pointing to a religious or spiritual subtext. The results are certainly original–Tregenza clearly has a vision and an approach all his own–but also somewhat hermetic. With Katherine Kelley, Catherine Fogarty, and Hugh Nees. (JR) (Music Box, 9:30)

Snake Fang

This lurid but very watchable melodrama from Iranian director Masud Kimiai uses the relationship between Reza, a mild-mannered intellectual, and Abdol, a street-smart war refugee who oversees the black-market activities of a gang of orphaned youths, as a context for examining the devastating aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war. The unlikely friendship between the two men also serves to convey the larger message hinted at by the title: just as it is necessary to draw the poison from a snakebite before it spreads, it is essential for all citizens to work against corruption and brutality if society’s health is to be restored. Audiences accustomed to the conventions of Hollywood films may find some scenes unintentionally amusing. (AS) (Esquire, 9:30)

Tuesday, October 15


See listing under Monday, October 14. (Fine Arts, 4:00)

The Arc

See review under Monday, October 14. (Esquire, 5:30)

*My Own Private Idaho

Mala Noche and Drugstore Cowboy were both certainly good, but Gus Van Sant’s third feature–working for the first time with his own original material–is even better: a simultaneously heartbreaking and exhilarating road movie about two male hustlers (River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves) in the Pacific northwest. The first suffers from both narcolepsy and a broken home, while the second is the son of the mayor of Portland; the one without a family is essentially looking for one while the one with a family is mainly in flight from it. The stylistic eclecticism is so far-ranging that it may take some getting used to, but Van Sant’s poetic imagination and feeling for his characters are so lyrically focused that almost everything works, and even the parts that show some strain–such as an extended hommage to Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight that’s stitched into the plot like crazy-quilt patchwork–may excite you nonetheless for their audacity. Phoenix has certainly never been better, and Reeves does his best with a part that suffers from consisting largely of Shakespeare’s Hal as filtered through Welles. One of the movie’s smallest accomplishments is providing the best metaphor for sexual orgasm to come along in years; one of its biggest is justifying an arsenal of road-movie conceits that until now seemed exhausted. (JR) (Fine Arts, 7:00)

Shanghai 1920

Leong Po-chih’s sluggish cross-cultural male-bonding drama has little in common with the high-powered Hong Kong romp Peking Opera Blues, to which it’s compared in the festival schedule, so caveat emptor! A lukewarm script–shot (and sometimes dubbed) in English–and multinational casting that’s devoid of chemistry doom an otherwise classy stab at period filmmaking. In its favor, the film is shot well and makes excellent use of its Asian locations. John Lone (The Last Emperor) gets lots of screen time, but the deck is stacked against costar Adrian Pasdar, who’s rendered irritatingly weak and defenseless. The story, set mostly during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai, reprises in flashback the tortured 20-year friendship between a streetwise Shanghai orphan and the son of an American shipping magnate, but with little emotional weight. Even Spielberg’s overblown failure Empire of the Sun intermittently conveyed something more compelling about the same time and place than this pale story. (BS) (Music Box, 7:00)

Cousin Angelica

A 1974 film by memory-and-desire specialist Carlos Saura (Cria). Jose Luis Lopez Vazquez plays a middle-aged man who returns to the village of his youth, where his dim memories of the Spanish Civil War mix with his recollection of his first love, his cousin Angelica. (Dave Kehr) (Esquire, 7:30)


If I hadn’t loved Maria Novaro’s first feature, Lola–a sharp, unsentimental portrait of a woman who is a bit of a failure as a mother, daughter, lover, and businesswoman–Danzon probably would have delighted me. People who like Lola don’t like Danzon as much, and vice versa. There’s nothing wrong with Danzon–it’s funny, light, well-written, acted by a superb cast–it’s just that all the protagonists are so nice. A middle-aged single mother (the fabulous Maria Rojo)–a telephone operator during the day and a champion of the traditional Mexican danzon at night–goes to Vera Cruz to look for her mysteriously vanished dance partner. She meets a feisty hostel manager, a bunch of lovely whores, and a few simpatico transvestites, and ends up with a gorgeous young hunk in her bed. Yet she leaves him to go back to Mexico City, to her daughter, her warm and silly girlfriends, and her danzon contests. What moved me the most was Danzon’s sensual rendering of Mexico’s popular culture–its music, its warmth, and the loose, passionate charm of its street life. (BR) (Fine Arts, 9:15)


Martha Plimpton stars as the title heroine–a musician who discovers, on her 21st birthday, that she’s adopted. A first feature by Steven La Rocque, who hails from Illinois. (Music Box, 9:30)


A feature from Iceland by Larus Ymir Oskarsson about the years-later aftermath of a crime of passion. (Esquire, 9:30)

Wednesday, October 16

*An Affair to Remember

Leo McCarey’s color and ‘Scope remake of his 1939 masterpiece Love Affair, coscripted with Delmer Daves, is his last great film–a tearjerker with comic interludes and cosmic undertones that fully earns both its tears and its laughs, despite some kitschy notions about art that figure centrally in the plot. A playboy (Cary Grant) and a nightclub singer (Deborah Kerr) meet and fall in love on a luxury liner headed for New York; each is romantically committed to someone else, but they agree to meet at a future date if they can disentangle themselves from their commitments. Neither star ever showed quite as much delicacy before or since, and McCarey’s elliptical way of framing key emotional moments works perfectly with their sublime performances. What brings this picture off is the reverse of the irony that characterized Douglas Sirk’s weepies of the same period; McCarey may pull out all the stops, but he accepts his characters and their world unconditionally–including the dignity of their religious feelings (he works wonders with Grant praying in a chapel)–and the depth of feeling he conveys is often so awesome that it calls to mind some of the masterpieces of Yasujiro Ozu. With Cathleen Nesbitt, Neva Patterson, Richard Denning, Fortunio Bonanova, and a memorable title song composed by Harry Warren (1957). (JR) (Fine Arts, 4:00)

The Grifters

A mannerist thriller that doesn’t begin to work despite the number of talented hands involved: Donald E. Westlake adapting a Jim Thompson novel, Stephen Frears directing, Martin Scorsese coproducing, and a more than capable cast. A small-time con artist (John Cusack) in Los Angeles meets up again with his mother (Anjelica Huston), who’s a hardened criminal working for a sadistic big-timer (Pat Hingle) and who despises the crooked tart (Annette Bening) her son has as a lover; many double crosses later, the incestuous underpinnings in this uneasy triangle come to the fore. While the filmmakers manage to keep things interesting (sexy, kinky, and ambiguous) much of the time, the self-conscious piety that Frears lavishes on this material places it in an uncertain netherworld that prevents it from ever becoming fully convincing, even as a stylistic exercise. The time is apparently the present, but the style nudges us so insistently back into the 40s and 50s that the characters seem cut adrift, without a stable world to support them. Nevertheless, if one can overlook Elmer Bernstein’s irritating ricky-tick score and forget After Dark, My Sweet (a much superior Thompson adaptation), there are plenty of compensations: sleek cinematography by Oliver Stapleton, and, in addition to the aforementioned actors, nice turns in smaller roles by Henry Jones and J.T. Walsh, among others (1990). (JR) Note: this special-admission screening will follow the presentation of the Piper-Heidsieck Award to John Cusack. (Fine Arts, 7:00)

The Tombs

An Argentinean feature by Javier Torre, son of the late filmmaker Leopoldo Torre-Nilsson, about the plight of a 13-year-old orphan who rebels against the repressive conditions of two state institutions for boys. This film reunites actors Norma Aleandro and Federico Luppi, both of whom appeared in The Official Story. (Music Box, 7:00)

The Family of Pascual Duarte

A 1976 Spanish feature by Ricardo Franco, set prior to the civil war, about an impoverished villager who kills animals to vent his frustrations. (Esquire, 7:30)

In the Name of the Father and the Son

French director Patrice Noia’s debut feature is autobiographical: spurred by the death of his father in 1978, he takes his son on a search into the family’s past. (Fine Arts, 9:30)

Lonely Hearts

Eric Roberts stars as a confidence trickster who preys on lonely women in a U.S. feature directed by Andrew Lane; Beverly D’Angelo plays one of his victims, and Joanna Cassidy is a private eye who tracks him down. (Music Box, 9:30)

The Bridge

Syd Macartney’s English feature, set in 1887, tells the story of a woman staying at a seaside resort with her three daughters who attracts the interest of a visiting painter. He gets her to model for him, and the two fall in love. (Esquire, 9:30)

Thursday, October 17

In the Name of the Father and the Son

See listing under Wednesday, October 16. (Fine Arts, 4:00)

The Tombs

See listing under Wednesday, October 16. (Esquire, 5:30)

The Seven Year Itch

Although it was directed and written (with George Axelrod, who adapted and bowdlerized his own play to appease the censors), by Billy Wilder, this Marilyn Monroe/’Scope classic appears at times to be presided over by Frank Tashlin–partly because of the satire on 50s puritanism and the use of wimpy Tom Ewell as the married and harried book editor, driven to dreams and distraction by his upstairs neighbor (Monroe) while his wife and son are away on holiday. There’s a memorable use of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto; with Sonny Tufts, Evelyn Keyes, and Robert Strauss (1955). (JR) (Fine Arts, 6:00)

30 Door Key–Ferdydurke

Jerzy Skolimowski’s new film set in Warsaw during the onslaught of war in 1939, stars Crispin Glover as a 30-year-old who suddenly starts being treated by those around him–including his former professor, a nymphet, and a female cousin–as if he had regressed back to childhood. (Music Box, 7:00)

To an Unknown God

This moody, poetic Spanish film is centered on an aging professional magician who traces his homosexuality back to a boyhood encounter with Garcia Lorca. Director Jaime Chavarri does not treat his character’s gayness as a political issue but as a metaphor for an affective difference–a specificity and intensity of emotion that will forever set him apart from the people around him. Hector Alterio stars, in a quiet, commanding performance; with Javier Elorriaga, Maria Rose Salgado, and Rosa Valenty (1977). (Dave Kehr) (Esquire, 7:30)

Quiet Days in August

Pantelis Voulgaris’s Greek feature focuses on six unrelated, lonely people in Athens during the month of August. Eventually, each meets one of the others, and the six separate stories become three stories about couples. (Fine Arts, 8:30)

Past Midnight

Jan Eliasberg’s first feature, a U.S. thriller about a social worker (Natasha Richardson) who becomes involved with a man (Rutger Hauer) emerging from 15 years in prison who may or may not have murdered his pregnant wife. Costarring Clancy Brown. (Music Box, 9:30)


Mexican documentary filmmaker Dana Rotberg makes his feature debut with this story of a 50-year-old would-be novelist who becomes involved with his newlywed next-door neighbor. (Esquire, 9:30)