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9:15 p.m.: Earth. Deepa Mehta, India, 1998, 110 min. An Indian Gone with the Wind. Set against the backdrop of India in 1947 when the British moved out shortly after dividing their colony into India and Pakistan, Earth examines the ensuing violent turmoil through the eyes of 7-year-old Lenny-Baby (Maia Sethna, making an impressive acting debut), the daughter of an affluent Parsee couple. As the nation is divided along religious lines, the Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians previously united against the British turn against each other in an effort to seize land for themselves and expel any dissenters (a brief reference to the A-bomb early on serves to remind us that the situation is still far from settled more than 50 years later). Lenny-Baby's family, like the rest of the Parsee minority, struggle to remain neutral even as their land is declared part of the new state of Pakistan and their friends turn on one another. It's quite a challenge to take on such a sweeping historical event, and director Mehta wisely keeps most of the story on a human level, occasionally giving us enough of a glance at the big picture (a city on fire, a train filled with slaughtered Muslims) to allow us to imagine the rest, which we hear through anecdotes and gather, by way of its effect on Lenny-Baby and her family's everyday life. Based on the semiautobiographical novel Cracking India by Bapsi Sidhwa, Earth marks the second installment of Mehta's "Elements" trilogy, following 1996's Fire. (Yes, the next one will be called Water.) In Hindi and English with English subtitles. (LYT)

West Olive

1:45 p.m.: Erskineville Kings. See Thursday, Nov. 4, West Olive.

3:45 p.m.: Via Satellite. Anthony McCarten, New Zealand, 1998, 90 min. New Zealand has contributed some fine films to the world -- Smash Palace, Utu, Once Were Warriors -- but Via Satellite will not be added to the list in the future. This labor of love (it's adapted from McCarten's stage play) was a labor to sit through. The film is about the dysfunctional family of an Olympic swimming medalist: The Dunn household is preparing for a satellite linkup that will broadcast their reactions simultaneously as daughter Carol takes the gold she seems certain to win. Mama Dunn, a little mentally slow, is justifiably proud of her daughter; Carol's twin sister, Chrissy (Danielle Cormack plays the twins), is an angry, bitter dropout who wants no part of the broadcast until some questions about her dubious parentage are cleared up; eldest daughter Jen (Rima Te Wiata) is a homely, put-upon sort married to Ken (Timothy Balme), an errant, disconcertingly mild-mannered lout; and middle sister Lyn (Jodie Dorday) is a smart-mouthed looker, very pregnant. And, hey, who the heck's the father? The Dunns bicker, reveal and react to icky revelations, survive a near-electrocution, make the TV director's job hell, etc. But, by golly, they'll pull together for that glorious televised moment with Olympic star Carol, won't they? After all the neurotic unpleasantness, though, will you care? Although the film is billed as a comedy, you'll probably sit mute throughout. The awful closing song, "See What Love Can Do," features the unintentionally funny lyric "When you tell your story, make sure the story's right." Note to McCarten: Heed this advice next time out, because Via Satellite is ponderous and, um, over-Dunn. (KR)

6 p.m.: Nà. Robert Lepage, Canada, 1998, 82 min. Alternating between Osaka during Japan's Expo 70 and Quebec at the height of the Quebeçois separatist crisis, charts the troubled course of the relationship betweeen Sophie (Anne-Marie Cadieux) and Michel (Alexis Martin). Sophie, in Japan as part of a Canadian theater troupe performing Feydeau (badly), discovers that she is pregnant. Michel, a Quebec Liberation Front sympathizer and struggling playwright, becomes embroiled in a ramshackle bombing plot. Sophie is self-absorbed and distraught; Michel is self-absorbed and distracted. Lepage cuts between the two, forcing parallels and accumulating subplots. The problem is that never strays far from the farcical, even, or especially, when a more delicate touch is required. With the exception of Sophie's blind translator and her sweetly goofy boyfriend, the ancillary characters are caricatures, deployed to set up romantic confusion and homo jokes. And it doesn't help that there's a terrible punning coda that could have spoiled a better movie than this one. Burdened by cleverness, sinks under the weight of its contrivances. In French with English subtitles. (JH)

8:15 p.m.: DS: Meeting People Is Easy. Grant Gee, U.K., 1999, 95 min. When British band Radiohead's 1997 album OK Computer was released, the critics went gaga. They propped the band up on their shoulders as heroes who had just scored a game-winning goal. The crowd rushed the field, and chaos ensued. Meeting People Is Easy documents the five individuals inside this mass. Critics, talk-show hosts, industry execs and fans -- a monolith of others -- surround Radiohead throughout, and the band walks through dazed and confused, politely posing for the cameras, answering the interview questions and performing the record live. Director Gee films the crannies inside of this chaos, and the result reveals a surreal kind of tedium, beautifully imagined, stylized and edited to create an exquisite cinéma verité portrait. Fans of the band will no doubt be fascinated, but fans of documentary film in general will be treated to a nearly perfect film, a post-MTV Don't Look Back. (RR)

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