Capsule Reviews

April; Beau Travail; But Forever in My Mind; Bye Bye Africa; Charisma; Darkness and Light; First Person Plural; Hamlet; Journey to the Sun; Kikujiro; The Letter; Missing Boy; Moloch; Set Me Free

April (Italy, 1998)

This isn't the first Italian film to descend into the chaos of filmmaking with a tormented auteur as guide -- think Fellini without the phantasma. The first day on set, director Nanni Moretti, playing a version of himself, bails on making a musical that's been in the works for a decade and instead embarks on a documentary about Italy's tumultuous politics: It could be an epic or a disaster. Add to this the anxiety of the artist's impending fatherhood and you have a gentle satire of the crazy contradictions that make Italy -- the country that gave us both Michelangelo and Mussolini -- a maddening yet eternally sensual place, with the lunacy of politics and cinema thrown in for good measure. (Sura Wood)

Friday, April 28, 7:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Beau Travail (France, 1999)

Claire Denis (Nénette and Boni), one of France's most intriguing directors, isn't afraid to tread on the dark side. Here she uses Herman Melville's Billy Budd as inspiration for delving into the mind games played amongst an insular group of macho misfits; Denis transposes the action of the novel from the British navy of the late 1700s to a modern-day unit of the French Foreign Legion on the African coast. Galoup (Denis Lavant) is the epitome of the perfect legionnaire until the arrival of Sentain (Grégoire Colin), an enigmatic young solder who Galoup believes threatens to supplant him in the affections of their superior officer. His obsessive jealousy sets Galoup on a course that seals their mutual destruction. The film is somewhat abstract and the sheer force of evil that drove the Melville tale is absent. Instead, Denis opts to deliver stunning surfaces -- the relentless African sun, the sheltering sky, stark landscapes mitigated only by an azure sea (captured by the superb cinematography of Agnès Godard) -- over emotional resonance. (Sura Wood)

Saturday, April 29, 7 p.m., AMC Kabuki

But Forever in My Mind (Italy, 1999)

Gabriele Muccino's marvelous, magical film follows 16-year-old Silvio (Silvio Muccino) as his classmates occupy their school to protest "privatization" and "standardization." The words are both empty and expressive -- they mean different things to each kid, and the students seek to define their own society, their own identities, without knowing what exactly that entails. During the occupation, and under the heady spell of freedom, they run wild, speechify, smoke hash, and, most important, make out, behaving like the lovers in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Meanwhile, Silvio learns both to defy and respect his wonderfully complex parents. Muccino adores the anarchy of love and life -- the best trait a filmmaker can have. (Joe Mader)

Wednesday, April 26, 1 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Thursday, April 27, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Saturday, April 29, 7 p.m., Rafael

Bye Bye Africa (Chad/France, 1999)

Called back to his native Chad when his mother dies, director Mahamet Saleh Haroun is confronted with a society ravaged by war and economic collapse. This quasi-documentary traces his journey into a world that barely recognizes him or his disreputable vocation of making films -- "for the whites," as one irritated local tells him. Bye Bye Africa is discursive and overlong, but the central metaphor -- the failure of the country's cinemas as a symbol of the end of its creativity, imagination, and hope -- resonates. An actress in one of Haroun's earlier films makes the theme that "cinema is stronger than reality" explicit when she complains that his film "killed her," referring to a career that ended because audiences could not differentiate her from the role she played, a woman with AIDS. (Gary Morris)

Wednesday, May 3, 9:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Thursday, May 4, 6:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Charisma (Japan, 1999)

Disillusioned by his career as a detective, Yabuike (played by the magnetic star of Shall We Dance?, Koji Yakusho) thinks he'll find some peace in a forest. But he blunders into a ruined sanatorium whose remaining inhabitants still cherish their obsessions (including a tree named "Charisma") and into the laboratory of a beautiful botanist bent on killing that same tree, claiming it's poisoning every living thing around it. Swinging from the ludicrous to the apocalyptic, this uncategorizable film asks new questions about the relationship between the human and the natural. (Frako Loden)

Tuesday, May 2, 10 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Thursday, May 4, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Darkness and Light (Taiwan, 1999)

This film worked its subtle magic on me while I was trying to keep straight the characters and the circumstances of a most unusual family, whose massage clinic teenage daughter Kang-yi is helping out on her summer vacation. She falls in love with a young boy who's been expelled from a military school, incurring the jealous wrath of another punk who thinks she belongs to him. Taking some tips from acknowledged master Hou Hsiao-hsien, for whom director Chang Tso-chi formerly worked as assistant director, Darkness and Light works by matter-of-fact layering of incident and atmosphere to attain enchanting effects, including one of the loveliest endings I've seen in recent films. (Frako Loden)

Friday, April 28, 7 p.m., PFA; Saturday, April 29, 6:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, May 3, 7:20 p.m., AMC Kabuki

First Person Plural (U.S.A., 2000)

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