Plays Friday, May 2, at 3:30 p.m., and Sunday, May 4, at 9:45 p.m.

The Delta
(U.S.A., 1996)
* Ira Sachs' impressionistic first feature, shot in Memphis with a talented amateur cast, sketches the brief, troubled relationship between wealthy white boy Lincoln (Shayne Gray) and working-class mixed-race John (Thang Chan). Lincoln has a girlfriend but secretly cruises for gay sex. In a shrewd inversion of Huckleberry Finn, the two steal Lincoln's family boat for a leisurely river cruise. But this is no voyage of self-discovery; because Lincoln's repressions -- born of his class, as a strained family dinner makes clear -- render him incapable of self-analysis. John's attraction to Lincoln is erotically charged, almost groveling, and their interplay recalls master-slave relationships in the Old South. Sachs extrapolates a world of class and race inequities from this failed love affair between two men. (Morris)

Plays Thursday, May 1, at 9:30 p.m., and Saturday, May 3, at 9:30 p.m. (Also at the PFA Monday, May 5, at 7 p.m.)

A Drifting Life
(Taiwan, 1996)
* This is a first feature? This semi-autobiographical, uncannily confident debut captures the rootless rhythm of a young widower (Lee Kang-sheng, who also stars in another superb festival entry from Taiwan, The River) as he drifts between a city life with his city lover and his parent's farm in the country, where his two children live. Deeply moving and extraordinarily beautiful, it's very much in the meditative, elemental tradition of fellow Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien, and every bit as good. (Booth)

Plays Friday, May 2, at 1:30 p.m., and Saturday, May 3, at 6:45 p.m.

Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask
(England, 1996)
The great revolutionary thinker of the 1950s (he died in 1961) is a ghostly presence in this composite look at his life, never quite emerging from icon status to flesh and blood. The facts are all here, and some of them -- like Fanon's galvanizing experiences working at a psychiatric hospital in Algeria -- are powerfully sketched through interviews with colleagues and friends, and historical footage. But using an actor (a not very good one at that) to re-create key moments in Fanon's life seems particularly inappropriate for a man driven by the idea of living "authentically." (Morris)

Plays Tuesday, May 6, at 2 and 7:15 p.m. (Also at the PFA Wednesday, May 7, at 9 p.m.)

Irma Vep
(France, 1996)
* Hong Kong megastar Maggie Cheung is hired by Rene Vidal (Jean-Pierre Leaud), a has-been French director, for a remake of the silent serial Irma Vep. This ill-fated film-within-a-film gives director Oliver Assayas a dazzling platform for an attack on the pomposities of the French film industry, but Irma Vep is more than a polemic. Assayas' nervous, constantly moving camera gives his characters a bracing immediacy as they gossip and fight over everything from action films vs. "dead French cinema" to whether lesbian wardrobe mistress Zoe (Nathalie Richard) has managed to bed the star. The entrancing Cheung suggests another dimension to the film as a virtually abandoned outsider, and her relationship with Zoe resonates particularly in a scene where Zoe longingly tries to convince her to come to a "bonne rave." (Morris)

Plays Saturday, May 3, at 10 p.m.

Jour de Fete
(France, 1947)
* Jacques Tati plays pastoral hide-and-seek in his 1947 feature debut, restored to its original pastels in a characteristically idiosyncratic comedy about a rural postman-on-wheels who tries to modernize his deliveries "the American way" after catching a movie on same. The comedy is broader and his character more talkative than in Tati's later Hulot films, an awful toothbrush mustache making the gawky star look like an elongated Wimpy. The provincial charm is laid on with a trowel. Nonetheless some inspired and/or agreeably stylized comic routines and running gags point the way toward the formalist mastery of Tati's later work. (If there's a funnier film playing in this festival, we'd like to hear about it.) (Rickman)

Plays Saturday, May 3, at 2 p.m.

The Maker
(U.S.A., 1997)
* Aimless teen Jonathan Rhys Myers' pretty vacant life upends when slickly criminal big bro Matthew Modine returns after a long absence. Director Tim Hunter himself fruitfully returns to the grunge-kids-in-a-moral-bind narrative he has long since made his own (Tex, River's Edge). An ethical gangster flick, The Maker displays an unforced stylistic virtuosity and intelligence of a caliber rapidly vanishing from American budget cinema. The brooding Rhys Myers and the joking Modine are an excellent unmatched sibling set, and Fairuza Balk is particularly tasty as Rhys Myers' lesbian gal pal. (Rickman)

Plays Friday, May 2, at 10:30 p.m., and Monday, May 5, at 3:45 p.m. (Also at the Lark Saturday, May 3, at 9:30 p.m.)

Mandela
(U.S.A., 1996)
The title defines this documentary's limits -- it's a dignified portrait of the South African leader, not a political explication or a psychological probe -- and the directors, Jo Menell and Angus Gibson, fill those limits handsomely. What's most intriguing about this movie's straight-ahead, heroic rendering of Mandela's life story are its fleeting depictions of his sarcasm and caginess. Since this production derives from Jonathan Demme's company (Clinica Estetico), it's not surprising that the music on the soundtrack accentuates the film's attention to the spoken and stomped rhythms of a folk revolution. (Sragow)

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