Capsule reviews

At All Costs; Close-Up; Eeny Meeny; The Jazzman From the Gulag; Mask of Desire; Handsome Arno; Nowhere to Hide; Our Song; Return of the Idiot; Seduced and Abandoned; This Years Love; Trixie; Voyages; Wisconsin Death Trip

At All Costs (France, 1996)

Claire Simon's rather pointless documentary follows a French entrepreneur as he struggles to keep his food service venture afloat. Jihad, the owner, desperately pleads with his employees, suppliers, and creditors to accept less than what's due, juggling his ever-dwindling cash and credit. This goes on for more than a year, and for some reason his employees don't leave, though he does let one go. When someone asks Jihad why he's even in this business, he evades the question. Simon appears not to care. She seems to find Jihad's futile exercises interesting without finding him intriguing. You could call this an existentialist documentary, but even existentialism isn't this bleak. (Joe Mader)

Sunday, April 23, 1 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Thursday, April 27, 9:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Sunday, April 30, 8:30 p.m., PFA

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Close-Up (Iran, 1990)

Of all Kiarostami's obsessed men, this character is the most interesting: The real-life Hossein Sabzian, jobless admirer of beloved film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, falls into a chance to impersonate Makhmalbaf one day on a bus, setting off a chain of events in which he deludes an entire family into believing they'll star in his next movie. Sabzian rides this "close-up" as far as it goes, even into his arrest and trial for fraud, which Kiarostami documents as well as telling the story through re-enactments by the actual players. This is a fascinating and penetrating study of celebrity, self-respect, and cinephilia, rendered in Kiarostami's unique blend of documentary and re-creation. (Frako Loden)

Saturday, April 22, 7:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Eeny Meeny (Czech Republic, 2000)

The acerbic spirit of Luis Buñuel infects Alice Nellis' perceptive look at post-Curtain Czech politics. A small-town polling precinct provides a carnival of vapid imagery, meaningless ballots, and a matriarch of a precinct captain straight out of Orwell: politics, in other words, as usual. In this setting James Joyce, gin, the mambo, and other symbols of spiritual and intellectual freedom are only so many masses-friendly opiates, and the pursuit of democracy is as futile as a playground rhyme. (Matthew Stafford)

Friday, April 21, 7 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Sunday, April 23, 1:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Saturday, April 29, 2:30 p.m., PFA

The Jazzman From the Gulag

(France, 1999)

The wonderful, horrible life of world-class trumpet player and bandleader Eddie Rosner -- whose brilliant career was short-circuited first by Hitler and then by Stalin -- encapsulates the depth of midcentury tragedy. So why is this invigorating French documentary so, well, exuberant? It must be all that big band swing music, and the irrepressible grin on Rosner's face every second he's onstage. There's something absurdist and even unbelievable about this story; in fact, there are stretches in which it plays like a mockumentary. Ultimately, though, the film is zany and alive in a way that Ken Burns' upcoming marathon PBS series on jazz won't begin to approach. (Michael Fox)

Sunday, April 23, 3:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 24, 4 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Jesus Son (U.S.A., 1999)

Stylish though it is, this latest feature from Alison Maclean (Crush, Kitchen Sink) begs the question: Do we need yet another tale of a lost soul tripping through junkiedom on his way to recovery? Based on a short story collection by Denis Johnson, the film follows the lead character, accurately nicknamed Fuckhead (the ubiquitous Billy Crudup), who is terminally in need of a shower. He scores dope, fights with his girlfriend, and watches her shoot up until she ODs and he bottoms out. The film gets better when Fuckhead straightens out, emerges from his drug-induced haze, and meets a sober Dennis Hopper and a touching eccentric on crutches (Holly Hunter -- we knew she coveted Rosanna Arquette's role in Crash), whose previous boyfriends have come to bad ends. There are some beautiful touches, but it's difficult to admire a film that gives one the feeling Nancy Reagan may have been right. (Sura Wood)

Friday, April 21, 4 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Saturday, April 22, 10 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Lies (South Korea, 1999)

Jang Sun-Woo (Timeless, Bottomless, Bad Movie) continues charting the terrain of urban Korean sexual mores in his most controversial film yet. Here he achieves transcendence in the chronicle of an affair between a teenage girl and a nearly middle-aged married man. The uncompromising lovers, obsessed with escalating the passion and pain they can give to each other, gradually shed all other obligations until they're down to "four walls within which to make love." Occasionally the camera draws back to remind us of the emotional peril that the first-time actors risked to undertake their roles. This superb love story explores the body's capacity for enduring passion. (Frako Loden)

Sunday, April 23, 9:45 p.m., Castro

Long Nights Journey Into Day

(U.S.A., 2000)

East Bay filmmakers Francis Reid and Deborah Hoffmann spent three years shooting this documentary about the work of South Africa's TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission). The result is a superb examination of the lingering effects of, and righteous attempts to heal from, the massive carnage that accompanied apartheid. The directors frame the story in four vignettes of murder and amnesty -- the famous Amy Biehl case, the bombing of a bar frequented by Afrikaner police, and two exceptionally brutal massacres of blacks by white, government-sanctioned death squads. These moving stories together form a chilling but ultimately hopeful picture of the human capacity for both evil and contrition. (Gary Morris)

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