And Now, On With the Show: SFIFF Week 2

American Cuisine (France, 1998)
In this gentle farce in which sexual love is a poor cousin to the passion aroused by good food, U.S. Navy chef Loren (Jason Lee) is dismissed from his post after being deemed incapable of "making real food for real men." He heads to Dijon and apprentices himself to the great Boyer, an autocratic French chef who breakfasts on french fries and canned ravioli. As the brilliant, increasingly erratic chef par excellence, Eddy Mitchell (a former rocker) gives a performance as rich and nuanced as the superb dishes he prepares, while teaching the American novice the finer points of love and cooking, and subjecting him to a trial by foie gras. Director Jean-Yves Pitoun captures the riotous symphony of a four-star kitchen, and though the romance between Loren and Boyer's brusque daughter (Irene Jacob) is implausible, the real love affair here is with food. "There's nothing better than making love in a kitchen," says Boyer. Bon appetit. (Sura Wood)

Saturday, May 1, 9:30 p.m., Rafael; Tuesday, May 4, 7 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Autumn Tale (France, 1998)
Two friends of single vintner Beatrice Romand maneuver at cross-purposes to find her a boyfriend in this character-driven farce by France's Eric Rohmer. The frizzy-haired Romand, memorable as a teenager in Rohmer's Claire's Knee back in 1970, excels as a stubbornly proud 45-year-old grimly waiting for a lover to materialize. Naturally she's suspicious when two eligible males suddenly appear at a friend's wedding reception. Mellow and warm, this closing film in the 78-year-old Rohmer's deceptively frivolous "Four Seasons" cycle reveals that the sometime-moralist has matured in his age into a Gallic Jane Austen, tolerant of human foibles. (Gregg Rickman)

Monday, May 3, 7:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, May 5, 9:50 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Battu's Bioscope (Poland, 1998)
In this documentary, traveling showman Battu takes his Hollywood films and Bombay action flicks to remote Indian villages in which people are willing to sell their own blood for tickets. As his brightly painted truck rumbles down unpaved roads, Bat shares his belief in the transformative power of film. It's a quaint notion to jaded Americans whose senses are regularly bombarded by blockbusters, but to tribespeople whose lifestyles have remained nearly unchanged for 5,000 years, film is indeed a miracle. For a few hours, they leave their brutal, impoverished existences behind, pack primitive outdoor screening venues, and experience a sense of wonder it would behoove us all to recapture. (Sura Wood)

Saturday, May 1, 4:30 p.m., Rafael; Sunday, May 2, 1:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, May 5, noon, AMC Kabuki

Chief! (Cameroon, 1999)
Substance outweighs style in this unblinking look at Cameroon under its current dictatorship. Far more interesting and ambitious than most agitprop, Chief! probes the populace's mindless and pervasive devotion to authority, be it in the form of a robed neighborhood chief or the suit-clad head of the government. Patriarchy, in all its legal glory, is one of the film's major targets. All in all, this is an important, if overly didactic, expose of life under a regime that cynically espouses "peaceful democracy." The film screens with Konate's Gift, a charming short that plays like a PSA for condom use. (Michael Fox)

Wednesday, April 28, 1 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Friday, April 30, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, May 5, 7 p.m., PFA

Forrest Bess: Key to the Riddle
(U.S.A., 1998)
Le Petomane: Fin de Siecle Fartiste (U.S.A., 1998)

This dubious double bill begins with the story of an obscure Texas artist who achieved some fame during his lifetime. Forrest Bess' abstract paintings, based on symbols from his own dreams, recall hieroglyphs or prehistoric pictograms. Yet overshadowing his work was his attempt to manifest bodily the male and female in his nature: Bess became a "pseudo-hermaphrodite" by surgically incising a hole at the base of his penis. Less intriguing, Le Petomane spends 50 minutes on turn-of-the-century novelty act Joseph Pujol, "Le Petomane," who was able to fart various tones. The documentary links Pujol to Freud and composer Eric Satie before moving on to the important topic of pussy farts. Maybe it's worth two minutes on Comedy Central's The Daily Show, but a whole movie? (Gary Morris)

Sunday, May 2, 9:10 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, May 5, 2 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Getting to Know You (U.S.A., 1999)
The real thrill of festivalgoing is discovering jewels like this one. An exquisitely nuanced first feature, it's held together by the extraordinary performance of 16-year-old Heather Matarazzo as Judith, a shellshocked victim of her family's recent, violent collapse, who carries a gigantic load of guilt on her slumped shoulders. As she waits with her brother in a seedy upstate New York bus station, she meets a young motormouth who seems to know the sad tales of everybody passing through the station. Slowly, delicately, these stories weave together, as the two teenagers peel back the covers on their own devastating sto-ries, too. It's a gor-geous, intricate film with a big, deeply satisfying emotional wallop. (Tod Booth)

Saturday, May 1, 7 p.m., PFA; Sunday, May 2, 7:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki
Hitchcock, Selznick and the
End of Hollywood (U.S.A., 1998)

As he did in his earlier PBS documentary, The Battle Over Citizen Kane, director Michael Epstein simplifies a complex history with many characters into a struggle between two titans -- Welles and Hearst in the earlier film, Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick here. Hitchcock's gradual subversion of Selznick's producer-oriented filmmaking style into his particular brand of "auteur" cinema makes for a good story, but ignores the other factors that made their collaborations (Rebecca, Spellbound, and the ill-fated The Paradine Case) so striking. Paradine, for example, is not the total disaster Epstein portrays it as, but an honest analysis of its strengths and weaknesses would undermine his argument; this very entertaining drama is ultimately as concocted as any of its heroes' movies. (Gregg Rickman)

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