Plays Saturday, May 3, at 7 p.m., and Wednesday, May 7, at 1 p.m.

(Czech Republic, 1968)
* A stunning indictment of the orphanages and penal institutions of communist Czechoslovakia. The government dealt with the "problem of the Gypsies" by taking Romany children from their parents, officially to give them running water and an education. But in reality years of abuse and neglect produce enraged and alienated adults who cannot function in the world they've supposedly been specially prepared for. (Stachura)

Plays Friday, May 2, at 7:30 p.m., and Monday, May 5, at 1:15 p.m.

Mean Streets
(U.S.A., 1973)
* Martin Scorsese's Little Italy Graffiti, written in hot blood, stars Harvey Keitel as the would-be street saint Charlie -- a mob kid on the rise -- and Robert De Niro as Johnny Boy, his out-of-control friend. Twenty-three years ago, its view of a claustrophobic, unjust ethnic life startled those who misread The Godfather as a paean to the traditional Italian family. And the conflict raging in the hero's skull, between his religious sensibility and pursuit of success, mirrored all the confusion and compromise of the Vietnam-Watergate era. Scorsese's talent exploded in jolting camera moves and a febrile rock soundtrack. The result was a breakthrough depiction of urban life in extremis. Selected by writer Barry Gifford for the fest's "Indelible Images" series. (Sragow)

Plays Wednesday, May 7, at 9:15 p.m.

A Midwife's Tale
(U.S.A., 1996)
* One tireless woman fleshes out the life of another in this vivid re-enactment of the world of 18th-century American midwife Martha Ballard, as described in her diary, which (in a parallel, documentary-esque fashion) historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich transcribes into a Pulitzer Prize-winning book. Ulrich did exhaustive research to augment the diaries; because so few women of that era left records of their lives behind, she turned to town-meeting notes, wills, and other public documents. (She had Ballard's husband's diary, too, to help translate her findings and put them in context.) This is a rare and engaging portrait of a remarkable life, giving viewers a sense of the hard work and social standards governing that time. (Wisner)

Plays Sunday, May 4, at 5:30 p.m., and Tuesday, May 6, at 4 p.m. (Also at the Lark Friday, May 2, at 7 p.m.)

Never Again, Forever
(U.S.A., 1996)
* A truly scary documentary by Pierre Chainet and Danae Elon. It traces the Jewish Defense League from its rise in Brooklyn in the late 1960s to its present incarnation in Israel, where it's been outlawed as a terrorist group. Former and present members discuss the murder of Arabs and other "enemies" as both necessity and pleasure. In one scene, a 12-year-old boy says, "I want to join the Israel army and kill Arabs in cold blood," while his mother watches and smiles. The JDL's religious imprimatur, racist dogma, and vigilante mentality give the film an eerie, timely ring. (Morris)

Plays Sunday, May 4, at noon, and Wednesday, May 7, at 3:30 p.m.

Nobody's Business/The Miniskirted Dynamo
(U.S.A., 1996 / Australia, 1996)
* Jewish parents go on trial in this standout program, which pairs the Golden Gate Award winners in the first-person documentary category. In Nobody's Business, New Yorker Alan Berliner forces his hilariously irascible and stubbornly defiant father to look back and confront his "ordinary" life of triumphs and failures, while Australian Rivka Hartman comes to terms with her powerful, overachieving mother (The Miniskirted Dynamo) whose innovations in child welfare contrasted with her curious lack of compassion at home. Irony, insight, and wit are the filmmakers' weapons of choice, which keeps these fascinating films far removed from the realm of sour get-even pieces or treacly tributes. (Fox)

Plays Sunday, May 4, at 2:30 p.m., and Monday, May 5, at 4 p.m. (Also at the PFA Tuesday, May 6, at 9 p.m.)

None Shall Escape
(U.S.A., 1944)
* This film, made nine years before Andre de Toth's best-known movie, the 3-D House of Wax (1953), shows the depth of his talents. Shot at the height of the war by the great Lee Garmes, this crackling black-and-white drama was both topical and prescient -- grimly detailing the terrors the Nazis were busy inflicting on Poland, and predicting the Nuremberg trials. The scene in which a desperate rabbi incites a trainful of Jews headed for the camps to riot is one of the most harrowing in cinema. (Morris)

Plays Saturday, May 3, at 4:15 p.m.

Paper Heads
(Slovakia/France/ Switzerland, 1995)
* One listens in horrified fascination as Czechoslovak victims of Stalinist oppression tell of their persecution and torture. People here and across Central and Eastern Europe lost families, land, homes, jobs, and limbs as any hint of rebellion was quashed with fear. Dusan Hanak combines archival footage, intense interviews, and superb papier-mache masked street theater to great effect. At times the rhythm of the film becomes repetitive, but testimonials of human torture snap you back. Intense and chilling. (Stachura)

Plays Sunday, May 4, at 12:15 p.m., and Wednesday, May 7, at 1:15 p.m. (Also at the PFA Monday, May 5, at 9:15 p.m.)

The Pillow Book
(England/Japan/France, 1996)
* Peter Greenaway amends and extends his experiments in sex, violence, and list-making in this fascinating film, a reworking of a 1,000-year-old Japanese classic largely set in Hong Kong, 1996-1999. Vivian Wu plays a woman, Nagiko, literally marked from childhood by her calligrapher father, who paints her face with words every birthday until his brutal publisher displaces him. As an adult Nagiko becomes obsessed with the art of calligraphy on the body -- hers and others. Greenaway's attempts to reinvent cinema with insert screens of words and images recall the split-screen experiments of the 1970s and of course his own fascination with grids, words, and texts generally (as in The Draughtsman's Contract or Prospero's Books), while his usually icy eroticism thaws quite a bit in the warmblooded performances of Wu and Ewan McGregor as a lover. And of course there's the usual Grand Guignol theatrical coup to drop the jaw of the most jaded semiotician. (Rickman)

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