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)

Saturday, May 1, 2 p.m., Rafael; Sunday, May 2, 4 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, May 3, 4:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, May 5, 4:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Khrustaliov, My Car! (Russia/France, 1998)
The reviewer who watched this film's preview video before me stopped at 20 minutes. And that may be enough for some people to dismiss it as disorienting, dark, and demented: In the winter of 1953, a decadent doctor from a mad household is taken to the heart of darkness, where he is to perform a precious mission. He spits and drinks his way through the Red Army, the KGB-orchestrated "doctors' plot," the Gulag, and the Russian Mafia. By its end, the movie has grown into something at once harrowing and breathtaking, using black-and-white imagery and lighting to evoke Stalinist Moscow as never before. Stay in your seat and give this cinema of distractions a chance to work its sinister magic on you. (Frako Loden)

Sunday, May 2, 6 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, May 3, 1 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Tuesday, May 4, 8:45 p.m., PFA

Life on Earth (Mali/France, 1998)
This hypnotic, politically astute portrait of an ordinary Mali village on the cusp of New Millennium Day is pure pleasure. A charming but pointed meditation on the lingering echoes of colonialism, Life on Earth employs a blend of documentary and fiction to recount a languid yet subtly inexorable homecoming story. Sun and shade define a graceful, stately world where bicycles and radios are the extent to which technology has infiltrated. But it would be a mistake to conclude that life is primitive here, or that Life on Earth is merely a travelogue. The film screens with the breathtakingly ambitious, Angelopoulos-influenced Brazilian short Day to Day. (Michael Fox)

Wednesday, April 28, 6:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Liquid Sky (U.S.A., 1982)
A cult classic that deserves the name is a rarity. Russian emigre filmmaker Slava Tsukerman's first (and last, to date) feature recasts Weimar Germany -- with its attendant androgyny, drugs, and general air of apocalypse -- as a New York new wave nightmare: It seems those scenesters who aren't shooting up, club-hopping, or gyrating to Fairlight synthesizer music are being obliterated by aliens during orgasm. Who knew? The star of this scintillating show, besides Tsukerman's haunting music, is the glorious Anne Carlisle in a double role as both haute bisexual debutante Margaret and Jimmy, the Bowie-esque "boy" who slaps her(self) around and steals her drugs. Carlisle, who also co-scripted with Tsukerman, has tremendous presence, and the most shocking thing about the film is that she didn't have a bigger career. (Gary Morris)

Tuesday, May 4, 6:50 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Megacities (Austria, 1998)
A better title might have been Anti-Koyaanisqatsi: Well-funded, lavishly shot, and ultimately shallow, this documentary offers riveting images of the working poor of Bombay, Mexico City, Moscow, and New York. The first two cities appear as monuments to poverty, and the film's shots of hovels built right up to the edge of railroad tracks have an undeniable visceral power. But the Moscow and NYC segments are arbitrary snippets that offer almost no context or insight and, given the filmmaker's acknowledgement that some scenes were staged, smell unpleasantly of exploitation -- of the viewer, not the subject. (Michael Fox)

Monday, May 3, 9 p.m., PFA; Wednesday, May 5, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Thursday, May 6, 7 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Passion (Hungary, 1998)
This mesmerizing masterpiece transforms James M. Cain's pulp paean to lust and greed The Postman Always Rings Twice into a profound indictment of state oppression. Transported to a muddy, Spartan farmhouse in the '30s, the story of suffocating, murderous love is told through excruciatingly choreographed long takes that extract every last nuance of suspicion. That freedom is illusory becomes chillingly apparent, however, when the doomed lovers meet the government institutions -- police, lawyers, and clergy. In case you hadn't guessed, the film is shot in exquisitely grim and gritty black-and-white. (Michael Fox)

Thursday, April 29, 6:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Sunday, May 2, 8 p.m., PFA; Wednesday, May 5, 9:20 p.m., AMC Kabuki

The Silence (Iran/Tajikistan/France, 1997)
Director Mohsen Makhmalbaf and cinematographer Ebrahim Ghafori create some stunning images in this fable of a blind Tajikistani boy who hears music where others hear cacophony: A young girl hangs cherries on her ears and dances; smiths hammer out bronze-gold pots. Too bad those smiths aren't working on the script or the storytelling -- the children are gorgeous, but except for two incidental, giggling schoolgirls, they are atrocious actors. Makhmalbaf is interested in them only as figurines, as objets d'art, and his pretty technique is like a ceramic glaze hardening on his characters and his film, rendering them lifeless. (Joe Mader)

Saturday, May 1, 4 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Etc.
Screenings are at the AMC Kabuki, 1881 Post (at Fillmore); the Castro, 429 Castro (at Market); the Pacific Film Archive, 2625 Durant (at College) in Berkeley; and the Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St. (at A Street) in San Rafael.

Tickets are $9 or $8 for Film Institute members, seniors, students, and the disabled. Tickets are available at the festival box office at the AMC Kabuki Tuesday through Sunday noon to 7 p.m., at ETM ticket machines in many Safeway stores throughout the Bay Area, over the phone by calling (888) ETM-TIXS, and online at www.sfiff.org.

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