Sex, Drugs, Rock 'n' Roll. Korea.

The 41st San Francisco International Film Festival

A few decades ago, a controversial Bay Area critic named Pauline Kael -- yes, the same wild original who went on to become Pauline Kael -- wrote an excoriating review of the San Francisco International Film Festival for a now-defunct publication called For Film. Years before she was to win the Mel Novikoff Award, she wrote about the craziness of seeing supposedly great (or at least special) movies night after night, in the forced euphoria of an atmosphere in which anyone involved in movies is treated as a genius by association.

The 41st edition is upon us, and moviegoers swept up in the inevitable hometown boosterism can get ready for another erratic cinematic smorgasbord served up by chefs and waiters of wildly different temperaments and accents. The difference is that, over the last 20 years, the scope of the festival has enlarged so that attending it has become the equivalent of spending a couple of weeks in the United Nations -- and visiting every nearby embassy, and attending every special committee.

I use the U.N. analogy advisedly. Having attended an equal number of press and public screenings over the last few years, I can tell you that the intense good feeling of the audience, whether they've come to cheer a friend or applaud the latest work of their ancestral land (be it Germany or Brazil or Burkina Faso), can carry you through hours of artistic drought. Abandon all hopes of consistency, ye who enter here: Dazzling tributes and doubtless one or two "finds" will nestle in with films of purely sociological or political interest. Lucid documentaries will find a temporary home next to rabid avant-garde dreck like the inexplicably programmed Gummo.

The good side of a megafestival like this one is that for two weeks no-budget films can, at least en masse, gather the same kind of big-city media blitz that routinely goes to studio fodder like The Man in the Iron Mask. The retrospective programs are skimpy compared to last year's cornucopia -- with a new biography and biopic due out about James (Frankenstein) Whale, why not organize a Whale retro and show his Man in the Iron Mask? But even (or perhaps especially) with this U.N. schedule, we should never forget that the festival is in many ways a culture-vulture version of a Roman circus. So let us be the first to say: Let the games begin! -- Michael Sragow

Thursday April 23

7:30 p.m. (Castro): Wilde (England, 1998)
This slick, A&E-style chronicle of Oscar Wilde's rise and fall wrongly assumes that his destructive romance with Lord Alfred Douglas and his legal battle with Douglas' father, the Marquess of Queensberry, are the most fascinating things about him. Like Wilde, the filmmakers are least creative when they have his lover "Bosie" on the brain: Director Brian Gilbert portrays the entrance of Wilde's bad boy with the same lubricious lighting that Joel Schumacher lavished on George Clooney in Batman & Robin. The freshest, funniest bit comes right at the beginning, when Wilde, on tour in America, fearlessly charms a bunch of shirtless Colorado silver miners with talk of the goldsmith Cellini. Back in not-so-jolly old England, what we get isn't worthy of Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray; it's merely a routine portrait of the artist. Taking off from Richard Ellman's biography (maybe "melting down" is a better phrase for it), screenwriter Julian Mitchell renders Wilde as a gentle titan and gay martyr. Ellman may describe Wilde as "the kindest of men," but this movie goes overboard peddling the barbed wit's niceness. Mitchell makes Wilde's story "The Selfish Giant" a metaphor for Wilde's guilt over his neglect of his children, and even uses the famous line from "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" -- "Each man kills the thing he loves" -- over a shot of Wilde at his wife's cemetery. Stephen Fry is engaging but spineless as Wilde, making him at once a perennial enfant terrible and a pitiful gaping target of a victim. It may not be sporting to say so, but Tom Wilkinson actually gives the juiciest performance as that horrifying brute Queensberry. The Marquess was also a poet of sorts: His favorite work began, "When I am dead, cremate me." (Michael Sragow)

7:30 p.m. (PFA): Somersault in a Coffin (Turkey, 1996)
A neo-realist look at a Turkish homeless man from first-time director Dervis Zaim.

9:30 p.m. (PFA): Life According to Muriel (Argentina, 1997)
What works in this Argentinian film by first-time director Eduardo Milewicz is the awkward friendship that builds between an angry young woman lost in the southern mountains with her 9-year-old daughter and the abandoned wife with two kids they fall in with. What doesn't work is a thick vein of sentiment that runs beneath this film's handsome surface. It continually threatens to gum up the cleareyed view of the film's protagonist and narrator, the little girl (Florencia Camiletti). As an awful song about "Daddy coming home" swamps the soundtrack, this proto-feminist film switches gears halfway through from Thelma & Louise to Kramer vs. Kramer, and while never actually bad is no longer very good. Nice scenery though, and nice acting -- by the female cast, anyway. (Gregg Rickman)

Friday April 24

12:30 p.m.: Marcello Mastroianni: I Remember, Yes I Remember (Italy, 1997)
A beguiling memoir. The style is discursive, not dramatic, but how better to while away three hours than in the company of the most debonair man in movie history? His remembrances of 50 years of moviemaking are so relaxed and insightful, they make you feel part of a posthumous conversation. Right up to his death in 1996, Mastroianni masterfully combined emotional transparency and wit. The attitude he describes here is one of humane irony -- toward his work and toward himself. Mastroianni merged with his roles but rarely lost the aesthetic distance he needed to shape (and have fun with) his characters. Indeed, he says, in his celebrated collaborations with Fellini (La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2), the Maestro's improvisation of entire worlds made him feel like a happy spectator. Mastroianni can be acutely perceptive about undervalued directors like Germi, Petri, and Monicelli as well as giants like De Sica and Fellini. He makes you want to run out and see everything, just to sample his range -- from the myopic intellectual in The Organizer to the wide-eyed john watching Sophia Loren strip in Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. (Michael Sragow)

1 p.m.: Thirteen (U.S.A., 1997)
David Williams' engrossing drama is ostensibly about a teen-age girl's quest for odd jobs so that she can buy herself some wheels, but within that context, it illustrates the essential value of family and community. Nina is a quiet 13-year-old Virginian whose fascination with cars hints at her restless, burgeoning desire to explore life beyond the comfortable borders of her mother's front lawn. When she hitchhikes away from home, her mother's friends, neighbors, and extended family band together to help find her; when she returns, without having found what she was looking for, the same close-knit bunch support her subsequent decision to buy a car by helping her find work and shuttling her between baby- and pet-sitting jobs. Gentle humor threads though the organic dialogue -- "She was so excited about going [to the car lot], she wore a dress," muses Nina's mother -- and Williams maintains a slow and steady pace, letting the understated human poetry of the drama inexorably draw us in. (Heather Wisner)

1:30 p.m.: Sacrifice & short (U.S.A./Burma/Thailand, 1998)
Ellen Bruno's portrait of young Burmese girls sold into prostitution in Thailand.

3:30 p.m.: Funny Games
(Austria, 1997)
You can always count on Michael Haneke (Benny's Video) for a didactic and unpleasant time at the movies. In Funny Games he disastrously miscalculates his long-ago-belabored critique of media-induced violence, creating instead a loathsome exercise in cold, cheap audience manipulation. It's about as profound as Scream. Haneke's fraudulent trick here is his attempt to implicate us in the senseless, savage attack on an innocent family by having his two preposterously polite thugs (imagine Eddie Haskell and Lumpy as psychopaths) winking at us as they cruelly torture three people to death. And just in case you miss the multiple Beavis and Butt-head references, we get a blood-spattered TV, too! Sure to break audience walkout records. (Tod Booth)

4 p.m.: Buud Yam (France, 1997)
Even hard-core aficionados of African cinema will find little beyond the attractive Burkina Faso actors and ocher landscapes to savor in this limp, talky fable. An unpopular young man leaves his village on an arduous, Arthur-like journey in search of a mysterious "healer" for his critically ill sister; he encounters topographical obstacles, helpful strangers, and other "tests" of the genre. The unfamiliar settings lend some freshness to the trite story, which is slowed by acres of redundant expository dialogue and other trademarks of bad writing. Boasting all the cinematic voltage of a filmed play, Buud Yam is benign and forgettable. (Michael Fox)

4:30 p.m.: The Acrobats
(Italy, 1997)
Anguish among the bourgeoisie, from director Silvio Soldini.

7 p.m.: An Ambiguous Report About the End of the World (Czech Republic, 1997)

"A bizarre, torrential allegory of the 20th century" from Juraj Jakubisko.

7:15 p.m.: Edge City & short
(U.S.A., 1998)
The kids are not all right in Eugene Martin's film, where "edge" refers both to the edge of town separating teens in Philly and the suburbs, and the edgy tension that builds as one group's rumor about another grows to monstrous proportions. After a sluggish start, Edge City draws viewers in by weaving minor but arresting subplots through the central conflict. Martin matches his uncanny ear for slang-heavy teenspeak with a persuasive cast, and his film offers a fairly evenhanded treatment of typically teen-oriented issues like sex and drug use. Unfortunately, extreme realism doesn't always equal great moviemaking, and these kids are essentially incoherent much of the time, a problem compounded by the director's penchant for jarring MTV-style jump-cuts and arty editing. Bothersome, too, is the way Martin undercuts the gritty realism with sappy made-for-TV lines like: "She's not like those other Springville girls. She's real. Maybe that's what scares me." (Heather Wisner)

7:30 p.m.: The Other Shore
(France, 1997)
Racial politics, on both the personal and national scale, are worked out by two unlikely friends (one Algerian-born French, one French-born Algerian) in Paris.

9:45 p.m.: Somersault in a Coffin (Turkey, 1996)
See Thursday 7:30 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive for commentary.

10 p.m.: Little Miracles
(Argentina, 1997)
"I don't have a philosophy, I have feelings," says an elderly man in the whimsical Little Miracles. He could well be speaking for the Argentinian director, Eliseo Subiela (Man Facing Southeast, Wake Up Love), who would be a poet if he weren't a filmmaker. His Little Miracles is like a sketchbook with eloquent captions. Rosalia, a young grocery clerk, dreams of being rescued from her desolate life by a fairy godmother. When one doesn't arrive, she grows her own set of wings. The husband destiny is grooming for her, an astronomer, divides his time between searching for signs of intelligent life in the universe and using surveillance equipment to spy on her at a bus stop. Though Subiela reaches for something transcendent here, he achieves the merely quirky. Still, it is difficult to resist his appeal to our essential humanity. (Sura Wood)

10:30 p.m.: I Went Down
(Ireland, 1997)
A gritty comedy from director Paddy Breathnach about the misadventures of a luckless and unwilling small-time gangster.

7 p.m.: (Castro): He Ran All the Way (U.S.A., 1951)
"The Unvanquished" honoree John Berry's political noir starring John Garfield and Shelley Winters. See accompanying story, "John Berry: Romantic Rebel."

9:30 p.m. (Castro): Jeanne and the Perfect Guy (France, 1998)
While the western enjoyed a brief resurgence in the '90s, another classic genre -- the musical -- was nowhere to be seen. It remained for the fearless French to resuscitate this hoary form, and the results suggest that some dogs are better left lying. Fans of fluff like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg may appreciate this story of a sexy young Parisienne who abandons her sexually profligate life to settle down with "the perfect guy" -- who happens to be dying of AIDS. Others will find the level of smarm suffocating, as every plot twist occasions a self-conscious musical outbreak, with the characters tunelessly expressing every little thought in their heads in song. Directors Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau attempt to inject a political consciousness into a form that by nature resists it, but they're sentimentalists at heart, corralling every cliche about lost love and mortality in sight. The sex scenes are surprisingly upfront, but with a fatal maudlin edge; all that's missing is a deathbed blow job. (Gary Morris)

7 p.m.: (PFA): Ossos (Portugal/France/Denmark, 1997)
Life in a Lisbon slum, from director Pedro Costa.

9:30 p.m.: (PFA): Following & short (England, 1998)
A weedy nonentity (Jeremy Theobald, a Richard E. Grant-type) with a habit of trailing strangers gets more than he bargained for in this 70-minute hand-held noir by British filmmaker Christopher Nolan. A clever film with lots of twists and a real sting in its tail; but in the end it leaves you suspecting, as most others built around a continual string of revelations do, that there could easily have been another surprise ... and then another ... and then another. Plays with Michael Almereyda's 23-minute The Rocking Horse Winner, which applies his favored home-video format to the D.H. Lawrence novella -- appropriately, in this case. (Gregg Rickman)

Saturday April 25

Noon: Bird People of China
(Japan, 1998)
Even the Japanese are milking the current Celtic music craze now. Bird People of China traffics in the sure-fire wistfulness the sound of a penny whistle can bring to any movie scene in this charming but overly obvious culture clash comedy/drama, something like a combination of Apocalypse Now and Local Hero. A naive Japanese salaryman and a grumpy gangster go "up the river" into the remote, unspoiled Yun Nan province of China, an unspeakably spectacular location in danger of being destroyed by, well, us. But if the filmmakers are so worried about the spoiling of this Shangri-La, then why did they drag a whole film crew up there and make a virtual travelogue about it? (Tod Booth)

1 p.m.: Ticket (South Korea, 1986)
Kurosawa Award-winner Im Kwon-Taek's "social protest" film about prostitution. See accompanying story, "Im Kwon-Taek: Drawing Down the Moon."

1:30 p.m.: Eisenstein: The
Master's House
(Russia/Germany, 1998)

This whimsical documentary goes far in humanizing a key figure in film history more revered than known. Directors Marianna Kirejewa and Alexander Iskin artfully limn the contours of Eisenstein's life -- from a privileged Russian childhood through his associations with many of the artists of the day (including Chaplin) to his always uneasy relationship with Stalin and his groundbreaking use of montage techniques, an enormous impact on cinema then and now. The filmmakers look at their subject through a comically cracked lens: In a typical sequence, Eisenstein's parents' marital problems are illustrated by a bizarre clip from a silent movie showing two animated cockroaches duking it out in a miniature house. (Gary Morris)

3 p.m.: Buud Yam (France, 1997)
See Friday 4 p.m. for commentary.

4 p.m.: Edge City & short (U.S.A., 1998)
See Friday 7:15 p.m. for commentary.

4:30 p.m.: Queens for a Day (France/Switzerland, Various)
A program of dance-themed shorts from France and Switzerland.

6:45 p.m.: The Acrobats
(Italy, 1997)
See Friday 4:30 p.m. for commentary.

7 p.m.: Cure (Japan, 1997)
A little bit of Seven, a bit more of The X-Files, and a lot of Angel Dust, Cure, from Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, is too derivative and plodding to achieve fully compelling creepiness. It wants to be slithery and insidious, to get under your skin and make you question your own reality, which it does every once in a while, especially in some of the scenes of the killer running his mind-fuck on his victims. It's too slow, though -- I couldn't help thinking that Mulder and Scully could have solved these mysterious serial murders in about half the time. (Tod Booth)

9:30 p.m.: A Summer's Tale & short (France, 1996)
The latest of Eric Rohmer's seemingly inexhaustible succession of charming films about the intricate dance of courtship and love is one of his best in some time. As in other Rohmer works dating back to the "Moral Tales" era of My Night at Maud's 30 years ago, a clueless man, rendered even more of a sap by his scruples -- which are really a desire to think well of himself -- is batted about by beautiful women as he struggles to figure out which one of them he really wants. The film is a comedy only because young Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud) and his friends are all about 20 years old, which excuses a lot. Even then, though, Gaspard at film's end has cause for regrets for the rest of his life -- because Rohmer recognizes, as few makers of love stories do, just how important one's sentimental attachments are. A beautifully made film, A Summer's Tale is as crisp as a breeze on the Brittany beach where most of the conversations unwind, yet it also packs the sting of the sand that can whip into your eye. With Amanda Langlet as a one-woman sentimental education. (Gregg Rickman)

9:45 p.m.: Following & short (England, 1998)
See Friday 9:30 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive for commentary.

11 p.m.: Gummo (U.S.A., 1997)
Even the prurient interest of Harmony Korine's art-house freak show shrivels within seconds, before we see the first of many tortured and murdered cats. (Selling cat corpses for meat is the anti-heroes' occupation.) The day-in-the-life sort of action (spread out over several days) takes place in the tornado-wrecked town of Xenia, Ohio. (It was filmed around Nashville.) The actors encouraged not to act and the non-actors encouraged to act come together as an ersatz-Fellini dysfunctional-family circus of glue-sniffers, cat-killers, and moral and physical slobs. The two main characters are the narrator, Solomon (Jacob Reynolds), a gnomelike teen, and his partner in feline extermination, the taller, supposedly wiser Tummler (Nick Sutton). Solly thinks that Tummler has the makings of a legend -- he ostensibly has magical insights. But those powers hardly come into play as we watch the boys sell their furry goods to a grocery owner; plot revenge on their cat-killing competition; and take turns with an incongruously primped-up, addled whore. The rest of the dramatis non-personae appear in their own vignettes and then pile up on each other. Korine doesn't invest any of them with the emotional and moral dimensions of full-blooded fictional characters, and they don't come across like the complex people in empathic documentaries such as the raucous, touching Seventeen (1984). What they are is sad or horrifying specimens. (Michael Sragow)

1 p.m. (Castro): Saltmen of Tibet (Germany/Switzerland, 1997)
The dying lifestyle of nomad tribes in the high Himalayas is commemorated in this handsome documentary by Ulrike Koch, which traces four men's monthlong trek to fetch salt from a distant lake. Expecting the clean, sharp image of movie film, I was initially disappointed to see that Koch's crew shot the gorgeous Tibetan plateaus on video; but the transfer is good and the softer video image works to render Tibet otherworldly. The scenery is beautiful and the saltmen are quite evidently fine individuals -- yet their work is obviously a backbreaking, human-wasting effort; this feeling made me perhaps the only audience member at the rapt press screening not inclined to hiss the trucks we glimpse that represent the more efficient technologies rendering the saltmen's lifestyle obsolete. Yet one inevitably appreciates the saltmen's nobility and their relative freedom compared to those of us in a technology-intensive lifestyle. (Gregg Rickman)

4 p.m. (Castro): Tension (U.S.A., 1949)
"The Unvanquished" honoree John Berry's taut thriller starring Richard Basehart and Audrey Totter. See accompanying story, "John Berry: Romantic Rebel."

7 p.m. (Castro): Xiu Xiu (U.S.A., 1998)
The directing debut of S.F. actress Joan Chen (Heaven and Earth, The Last Emperor), an homage to Chinese silent melodramas, is impressive but troubling. It's stunning to look at (shot by Zhang Yimou's cinematographer, Lu Yue), and the performances by newcomers Lu Lu and Lopsang are terrific. Opening in the fairy tale glow of nostalgia, we follow young Wen Xiu to the high plains of Tibet, apprenticed to a lonely horse herdsman named Lao Jin. The film continues on a lovely coming-of-age trajectory for a while, until things turn shockingly sordid when the randy local townies begin "visiting" Wen Xiu. Xiu Xiu then becomes something of a wallow in both the merciless debasement of Wen Xiu, and the agony Lao Jin experiences as helpless witness. Chen is obviously a very talented filmmaker, but she doesn't seem to know when to let up, and skates dangerously close to exploitation. (Tod Booth)

10 p.m. (Castro): Bandits
(Germany, 1997)
It could have been worse. The members of this all-female jailhouse rock band could have gone with their first choice and called themselves the Crazy Motherfuckers. The Bandits rehearse, break out of jail, and get signed to a recording contract. Hey, whoever said the music business was easy? Though they are supposed to be bad girls behind bars with guitars, they seem more like refugees from a Method acting class than real criminal misfits. With a little irony, this first feature from German Katja von Garnier might have been the genre-/gender-bending movie it wants to be, but instead it's a confused cross between Chained Heat and Footloose. These defiant, insolent women on the run are about as threatening as a group of backup singers in a music video, the genre this film most resembles. Let's make pouting a criminal offense and lock them all up. (Sura Wood)

4 p.m. (Clay): A Friend of
the Deceased & short
(Ukraine/France, 1997)

Under the guise of criticizing the soulless New Ukraine, this torpid malaisorama peddles a debased version of brooding coffee-shop glamour. Sure, it's sad that capitalism has rendered director Viatcheslav Krichtofovich's intellectual protagonist useless. But this tousled homebody would be more compelling if 1) he weren't so relentlessly stupid and 2) if other key characters, like his philologist-turned-yuppie wife, weren't conceived just to make him look more sensitive and soulful. The film's gimmick is simple: In order to pull off a particularly gutless form of suicide, this good-looking, unemployed egghead pays for a professional hit on himself. Unfortunately, this gimmick is also simple-minded. The brain decides to live after all, but does nothing to call off the plan except hire a bodyguard to kill the hit man. The hit man even talks to his target on the telephone, and our supposed anti-hero doesn't try to tell him what's up. Their brief conversation provides several movie walkout moments, and nothing that ensues is satisfying enough to make you happy if you stay. (Michael Sragow)

7 p.m. (Clay): The Opposite
of Sex (U.S.A., 1997)
The directorial debut from screenwriter Don Roos is reputedly a non-PC look at contemporary sexual politics among both straights and gays.

1:30 p.m. (PFA): The Underground Orchestra (Netherlands, 1997)
Filmmaker Heddy Honigmann's look at the lives of Paris street musicians.

4:15 p.m. (PFA): Crossfire
(India, 1997)
A portrait of Indian class divides after a young woman witnesses a crime.

7:15 p.m. (PFA): Thirteen (U.S.A., 1997)
See Friday 1 p.m. for commentary.

9:30 p.m. (PFA): The Ark of the Desert & short (Algeria/France/Germany, 1997)

A Romeo and Juliet tale, set in a North African village by director Mohamed Chouikh.

Sunday April 26

10:30 a.m.: The Boy Who Stopped Talking (Netherlands, 1997)
A Kurdish boy is moved by his family from his village to Holland.

12:30 p.m.: To Sang Fotostudio /Living With Your Eyes
(Netherlands, 1997)
A miniportrait of a Chinese photographer from director Johan van der Keuken, with an accompanying documentary on the making of the film.

1 p.m.: Marcello Mastroianni:
I Remember, Yes I
Remember (Italy, 1997)
See Friday 12:30 p.m. for commentary.

2:15 p.m.: From Today Until Tomorrow (Germany/France, 1997)
"One night in a not-quite-loveless marriage," from an obscure Schoenberg opera, directed by Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet.

2:30 p.m.: TwentyFourSeven
& short (England, 1997)
Shane Meadows' TwentyFourSeven hearkens back to the "kitchen sink" dramas of the 1960s: It's shot in hallmark grainy black-and-white and it centers around the young lads in a depressed town. Darcy (Bob Hoskins), a lovably gruff geezer, opens a boxing club and aims to teach his town's yobbish stoners fraternity and self-respect via the rules of the ring. Before you can say "stand and deliver" the blokes are spirited sparrers. With the exception of the film's bizarre and bloody conclusion, TwentyFourSeven is sweetly predictable. Given that in the last decade, the long-distance runners and boxers who peopled Britain's social realist cinema have been replaced by lurid underclass teens hyperreal in their hopelessness (Trainspotting and its kin), TwentyFourSeven is also downright nostalgic. (Alissa Quart)

3:15 p.m.: An Ambiguous Report About the End of the World (Czech Republic, 1997)

See Friday 7 p.m. for commentary.

4 p.m.: The Underground Orchestra (Netherlands, 1997)
See Saturday 1:30 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive for commentary.

5 p.m.: The Life of Jesus
(France, 1997)
Kids in a village in northern France, from director Bruno Dumont.

6 p.m.: Owens Award: Nicolas Cage (with Birdy; U.S.A., 1984)
Local actor Nicolas Cage is this fest's celebrity thespian honoree; a screening of Birdy follows an onstage chat and clip reel.

7 p.m.: Ossos (Portugal/France/
Denmark, 1997)
See Friday 7 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive for commentary.

7:15 p.m.: Thirteen (U.S.A., 1997)
See Friday 1 p.m. for commentary.

9:15 p.m.: Funny Games
(Austria, 1997)
See Friday 3:30 p.m. for commentary.

9:30 p.m.: The Ark of the
Desert & short (Algeria/
France/Germany, 1997)
See Saturday 9:30 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive for commentary.

10 p.m.: Queens for a Day
(France/Switzerland, Various)
See Saturday 4:30 p.m. for commentary.
1 p.m. (Castro): Little Miracles
(Argentina, 1997)
See Friday 10 p.m. for commentary.

3:30 p.m. (Castro): Come and See (U.S.S.R., 1985)
This striking epic, selected as part of the "Indelible Images" series by Sean Penn, is by veteran Soviet director Elem Klimov. Beginning with a sandy opening scene of boys playing with guns, it follows one kid's journey across a brutal arc of the Second World War as it is played out in his native Byelorussia. Klimov mixes wishful pastorals and increasingly unthinkable barbarism to searing effect; few viewers will be unmoved by the portrait of the effects of a world at war on the mind and body of one small boy. (Bill Wyman)

7 p.m. (Castro): Tamango
(France, 1957)
From "The Unvanquished" tributee John Berry; see "John Berry: Romantic Rebel" for details.

9:45 p.m. (Castro): Once Upon
a Time in China & America
(Hong Kong, 1997)
Part 6 of the Wong Fei-Hung series, from director Sammo Hung.

1:30 p.m. (PFA): Charles Mingus: Triumph of the Underdog & short (U.S.A., 1997)

Charles Mingus' (1922-1979) reputation as bass player, bandleader, and personality has obscured his standing as one of the most innovative composers of the century, a situation Don McGlynn's affectionate tribute tries to correct. This "supremely honest and uncompromising" man, as his widow Sue rightly calls him, had a tumultuous life marked by intense periods of creativity, funks, and breakdowns, commercial success and failure in almost equal measure. There's much new information to relish here -- who knew Mingus was so versed in the work of Schoenberg and Charles Ives? Extensive performance footage, much of it quite rare, and interviews with family, critics, and fellow players draw a powerful picture of a man who, at least on his better days, found in music what he couldn't always locate in life. (Gary Morris)

4:15 p.m. (PFA): Saltmen of Tibet (Germany/Switzerland, 1997)
See Saturday 1 p.m. at the Castro Theater for commentary.

7 p.m. (PFA): Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y & shorts (Belgium/France, 1997)
This ragged Craig Baldwin-style found-footage romp through the golden era of "skyjacking" brings back those hazy, crazy days of the '60s and '70s when airplanes and their passengers became the international terrorist's currency of choice. With some of Don DeLillo's juicier aphorisms from his novels intoned in voice-over, lots of cheerful, miniskirted stewardesses, and familiar folks like Richard Nixon, Fidel Castro, and the Japanese Red Army shaking their fingers at each other, Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y traffics a little too much in easy irony ("Do the Hustle" on the soundtrack over slow-motion airplane crash footage, for instance) but is still a thoroughly absorbing look at a nearly forgotten slice of recent history. (Tod Booth)

9:15 p.m. (PFA): Divine Body (Belgium/Benin, 1998)
Dominique Loreau's quasi-documentary about the travails of an old black Peugeot in Benin illuminates the country's condition.

Monday April 27

12:30 p.m.: Immigrant Memories -- The North African Inheritance (France, 1997)

The story of North African immigrants brought to France as cheap labor from the 1950s to the 1970s might seem of purely historical interest, but this practice continues today throughout the world, a hallmark of the First World's endless harvesting of the human power of the Third World with little regard for the ultimate fate of those it imports. Yamina Benguigui's moving three-part documentary on this subject, made for French TV, takes an exhaustive look at the lives of whole communities of social outcasts, the elders living in shantytowns and too poor to ever retire, the youth struggling with pervasive French racism. A Tunisian man speaks for many when he contrasts his bleak life as a factory worker in the '50s with the simple, lost pleasures of his homeland, where "the sun shines and strangers form a bond with you." (Gary Morris)

1 p.m.: Life According to Muriel (Argentina, 1997)
See Thursday 9:30 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive for commentary.

1:30 p.m.: The Other Shore
(France, 1997)
See Friday 7:30 p.m. for commentary.

4 p.m.: Hard-Boiled Egg (Italy, 1997)
A grimy neighborhood of Livorno, Italy, is the fertile breeding ground for this portrait of the artist as a rascal and would-be intellectual. Mom has only been in the grave a few hours, when Dad, a small-time criminal, brings his shrewish pregnant girlfriend home to take care of Piero and his brother. As fast as you can say "Odyssey," Piero's knack for the classics lands him in an elite school and on a better side of town where he befriends Tommaso, the disaffected son of a wealthy industrialist. Tommaso pleads poverty and wishes "to live like a dog and rummage through the garbage of life" -- a goal only the rich could afford. This is a fast-paced, subversive little film with a dry delivery and wry observations on class, politics, literature, and intellectual hypocrisy. (Sura Wood)

4:30 p.m.: Following & short (England, 1998)
See Friday 9:30 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive for commentary.

5 p.m.: Somersault in a Coffin (Turkey, 1996)
See Thursday 7:30 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive for commentary.

6:45 p.m.: A Brother (France, 1997)
Brother and sister in this debut from director Sylvie Verheyde.

7 p.m.: Charles Mingus: Triumph of the Underdog & short (U.S.A., 1997)
See Sunday 1:30 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive for commentary.

7:15 p.m.: Sacrifice & short (U.S.A./Burma/Thailand, 1998)
See Friday 1:30 p.m. for commentary.

9:15 p.m.: Bird People of China (Japan, 1998)
See Saturday noon for commentary.

9:30 p.m.: The Life of Jesus
(France, 1997)
See Sunday 5 p.m. for commentary.

9:45 p.m.: Junk Mail (Norway, 1997)
The schlubby postman anti-hero of this Norwegian comedy sighs and whimpers his way through his rounds, discarding mail that doesn't interest him and spying on patrons who do. Bit by bit this postman -- Robert Skjarstad, who resembles the prematurely aging William Sanderson character in Blade Runner -- becomes involved in the life of a larcenous, hearing-impaired dry cleaner who only eats Sugar Frosted Flakes. What develops is a very tasty comedy-thriller by director Pol Sletaune. There's even a moral about responsibility hidden inside this brisk (80-minute) sleeper. (Gregg Rickman)

7 p.m. (Castro): Gadjo Dilo
(France, 1997)
Friendship, love, and racism among the Gypsies, from director Tony Gatlif (Latcho Drom).

9:30 p.m. (Castro): My Beautiful Laundrette (England, 1986)
Explaining why Stephen Frears' breakthrough film is their pick for the "Indelible Images" series, Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein, the team behind the documentaries Common Threads and The Celluloid Closet, say "the gay relationship developed organically" (Friedman) and "the gay-themed story is just part of a panoply of human possibilities" (Epstein). How right are they? Well, when I did a capsule review of it during the 1986 festival, I never even mentioned the homosexual affair between one-time fascist punk Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis) and the film's Pakistani hero, Omar (Gordon Warnecke). Instead, I ranked it with Mike Leigh's Grown Ups and Meantime as the best of the festival's British discoveries. I wrote, "It pivots on a Pakistani lad who decides to emulate his businessman uncle rather than his intellectual dad. The boy is more the excuse than the center of the story, but My Beautiful Laundrette has an exciting, even intoxicating spin because of the hucksters, punks, and lovers who swirl around him. Screenwriter Hanif Kureishi has orchestrated their comings and goings into a script that can be read as a South London-style Bronx cheer directed at Thatcher's England and a Pakistani's spiritual Passage to Britannia. It has the smell and feel of real experience. Kureishi has copped a key line or two from a friend of his uncle's, whom he quotes in Granta as saying, 'This country [Pakistan] is being sodomized by religion. It is even beginning to interfere with the making of money.' " (Michael Sragow)

7 p.m. (PFA): Future for the Past: A Tribute to Warren Sonbert & the Estate Project (U.S.A., Various)

Warren Sonbert's less known locally for his filmmaking, which spanned over 30 years from 1966 to his death in 1995, than for his biting presence as film critic and gadfly for the local gay press. This is an unfortunate situation that the Estate Project, an organization devoted to restoring and rereleasing the work of artists who died of AIDS, aims to correct. On this program is included Sonbert's last film, Whiplash, a 20-minute short that's both a coda to his career in underground film and an index of his powers as an observer and the decline of those powers as his disease progressed. Shot in many locales in Europe and America, Whiplash is in the avant-garde "diarist" tradition -- a term Sonbert hated but which has some usefulness in defining him as a highly personal artist who used the movie screen as a canvas filled with color and noise and light. Uncharacteristic of his style, but understandable as his health deteriorated, are the repetitions. Simple, beautifully composed images of a woman walking down the street, a trapeze artist in a dark circus, and fireworks bursting in the air reappear verbatim several times, as if to strengthen a failing hold on life. (Gary Morris)

9:15 p.m. (PFA): Edge City & short (U.S.A., 1998)
See Friday 7:15 p.m. for commentary.

Tuesday April 28

1 p.m.: Bird People of China (Japan, 1998)
See Saturday noon for commentary.
1:15 p.m.: The Underground Orchestra (Netherlands, 1997)
See Saturday 1:30 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive for commentary.

1:30 p.m.: Charles Mingus:
Triumph of the Underdog &
short (U.S.A., 1997)
See Sunday 1:30 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive for commentary.

4 p.m.: A Friend of the Deceased & short (Ukraine/France, 1997)
See Saturday 4 p.m. at the Clay for commentary.

4:30 p.m.: Graveyard of Dreams (Georgia, 1997)
The intelligentsia goes to war in (former Soviet) Georgia in this drama from Georgi Khaindrava.

5 p.m.: Barbie Nation:
An Unauthorized Tour
& shorts (U.S.A., 1997)

The really surprising part of this brief documentary isn't the legions of worshipful adult Barbie fans or the creative abuse of the pert plastic miss. It's Barbie creator Ruth Handler's admission that she created an adult doll, with breasts, to help adolescent girls become more comfortable with their own changing figures. Beyond that, director Susan Stern provides some fairly predictable but nonetheless entertaining coverage, from San Francisco pride parade footage of Barbie drag queens to a TV news segment that begins with an utterly straight-faced newscaster asking, "Is deep-frying a Barbie doll part of a satanic ritual?" The clamor of voices around Barbie, both pro and con, includes a former bulimic model-turned-art student who once yearned for skinny doll legs, two little girls doing the Barbie-and-Ken mating dance, and a tableful of senior Barbie conventioneers gazing dully at a centerpiece of Barbie in a Southern belle get-up. An unauthorized convention, meanwhile, includes the likes of Sweatshop Barbie, who makes clothes for the other dolls. The disagreement between camps turns ugly with scenes of breast cancer activists blaming women's breast implants on Barbie's pervasive and improbable anatomy juxtaposed with a tight-lipped Handler, who was ultimately diagnosed with breast cancer. There is passing reference, too, to the lawsuits that Barbie's parent company, Mattel, slapped against anyone who dared take Barbie's name or image in untrademarked vain. It's enough to make a person scream ("It's just a doll, for Chrissakes!"), but ultimately you have to concede that Barbie's cultural baggage is enough to have enjoyably drawn out the film far longer than its succinct 53 minutes. (Heather Wisner)

6:45 p.m.: Sopyonje
(South Korea, 1993)
From Kurosawa Award recipient Im Kwon-Taek; see "Im Kwon-Taek: Drawing Down the Moon" for details.

7 p.m.: TwentyFourSeven
& short (England, 1997)
See Sunday 2:30 p.m. for commentary.

7:30 p.m.: Future for the Past: A Tribute to Warren Sonbert & the Estate Project (U.S.A., Various)

See Monday 7 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive for commentary.

9:15 p.m.: Divine Body
(Belgium/Benin, 1998)
See Sunday 9:15 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive for commentary.

9:30 p.m.: Hard-Boiled Egg
(Italy, 1997)
See Monday 4 p.m. for commentary.

9:45 p.m.: Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y
& shorts (Belgium/France, 1997)
See Sunday 7 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive for commentary.

7 p.m. (Castro): Battleship Potemkin (U.S.S.R., 1925)
A perennial on many a list of the greatest films ever made, Eisenstein's 1925 masterpiece is set against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution. In its most famous sequence -- indeed, perhaps the most revered scene in cinema history -- seemingly endless lines of Cossacks in crisp white uniforms slaughter what look like thousands of good proletarians on the massive Odessa steps. Collaborating with fearless cameraman Edward Tisse, and with a rousing Shostakovich score, Eisenstein does the seemingly impossible in brilliantly isolating the personal tragedies in the midst of an epic event. On the lighter side, camp followers and muscle queens will find much to love in the director's trademark lingering shots of handsome, burly sailors lolling half-naked in their hammocks. (Gary Morris)

9:30 p.m. (Castro): Storefront Hitchcock (U.S.A., 1997)
Storefront Hitchcock is not a documentary, a rockumentary, or even a movie -- it's merely a concert video with good taste. In it, Robyn Hitchcock -- either a free-association genius with a knack for quirky storytelling or a babbling no-hit oddity, depending on who wants to know -- meanders through a dozen-or-so songs and as many funny tales. Director Jonathan Demme (Stop Making Sense, Philadelphia) sets Hitchcock in a New York storefront window, his back to the street and playing to an unseen but appreciative audience. As the college radio cult hero sings "I Don't Remember Gilford," "Let's Go Thundering," "1974," and "The Yip Song," the camera alternates between close-ups (a vibrating guitar string, the singer's wide eyes) and passers-by (some bald guy toting a cat poster). The spare set is ingenious: Putting Hitchcock inside the fishbowl, with all the crazies of New York goggle-eyed glaring at him, actually makes him look like the normal guy. A must for Hitchcock fans (both of them), a slow night for anyone else. (Jeff Stark)

7 p.m. (PFA): Pandora's Screens (U.S.A., Various)
A selection of experimental works.

9:15 p.m. (PFA): Free Fall & short (Hungary, 1996)
A nightmare with footnotes. Between 1938 and 1944 a Hungarian Jew named Gyorgy Peto shot many reels of 8mm film footage -- home movies at first, then footage of patriotic ceremonies (Hungary at the time was a nominally free ally of Hitler's), and finally material in the labor battalion for Jews into which Peto was drafted. Peter Forgacs' film processes Peto's work into a dreamlike document of a black hole in history, sometimes by running it in slow motion, sometimes freeze-framing it, sometimes overlayering it with explanatory titles, bits of Hungarian history, and notations about the fates of family and friends. Tibor Szemzo's music contributes to the haunting quality of this found-footage masterpiece. Plays with Jay Rosenblatt's chilling Human Remains, a half-hour investigation into the private lives of this century's totalitarians. (Gregg Rickman)

* Films screened by the festival or made available for viewing on tape were reviewed by our staff, including Tod Booth, Michael Fox, Gary Morris, Gregg Rickman, Michael Sragow, Jeff Stark, Heather Wisner, and Sura Wood.

* All showings are at the Kabuki, 1881 Post (at Fillmore), unless otherwise noted. There are also screenings at the Castro, 429 Castro (at Market); the Pacific Film Archive, 2625 Durant (at College) in Berkeley; the Clay, 2261 Fillmore (at Clay); and the Lark, 549 Magnolia (at Dougherty) in Larkspur.

* Tickets are now $9 ($7.50 for Film Institute members, seniors, and students) unless otherwise noted. Weekday screenings until 5 p.m. are $5.50 and $5. Tickets are available at the door to each film, but it's smart to buy in advance, at the main box office in the Japan Center Kunokuniya Building, 1825 Post (at Webster), next-door to the Kabuki; or downtown on the second floor of the Union Square Macy's Men's Store, Stockton & O'Farrell.

* You can charge by phone at 441-7373 noon to 7 p.m. daily.

* Fest info by phone is at 931-3456; the San Francisco Film Society also has a schedule and more on the Web, at

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