Festival in Cannes. Henry Jaglom. During the world's most prestigious film festival, four men and four women, each with his or her own agenda, try to balance romance and ambition, with integrity and morals taking a back seat. An actress (Greta Scacchi), attempting to raise money for a project she has written and wants to direct, finds herself doing business with an abrasive, self-proclaimed producer (Zack Norman). They woo a sixtysomething French star (Anouk Aimée) for the lead but must compete with a major Hollywood producer (Ron Silver) who needs her to get his next project off the ground. And the star must figure out what to do with her ex-husband (Maximilian Schell), a director who has taken up with a young Italian starlet (Camilla Campanale). Writer/director Jaglom shot much of this on the run during the 1999 Cannes festival, and it's occasionally distracting to see everyone in the background looking straight at the camera, obviously wondering what's going on. On the other hand, this technique lends an air of faux-documentary reality. Though not a huge departure from Jaglom's usual fare, this still may be his most accessible work for his many nonfans since 1991's Eating. An amused indictment of his own profession, it feels less self-congratulatory than some of his other work. Opens May 17 at the Plaza Frontenac. (AK)
The Fourth Dimension. Trinh T. Minh-ha. Award-winning experimental film and video artist Minh-ha proves again her amazing eye for visually arresting compositions in her feature-length digital work The Fourth Dimension. Unifying themes emerge from this elusively organized compilation of Trinh's travels in Japan: individuality versus conformity, repetition versus spontaneity, movement versus stasis. Each sequence is vibrant and intriguing as Trinh juxtaposes diverse rituals with modern, media-saturated society. Periodically, an unseen narrator quotes famous Japanese poets or expressions, presenting ideas sometimes provocative, at other times somewhat pretentious or obtuse without further elucidation. No matter. The sensuous, thrilling images take us on a fascinating journey through ceremonies and parades, religious and secular events. Many of the daily activities are remarkably, candidly captured, though a few beg for more context. Trinh clearly chooses not to explain too much, preferring to immerse the viewer in events and bullet-train adventures as our surrogate tour guide. It works, with the flood of sensations and sounds lingering long after our return from this emotionally and intellectually engaging video journey through Japanese culture. Plays at 8 p.m. May 17-19 at Webster University. (DC)
Pauline and Paulette. Lieven Debrauwer. A Belgian/Dutch coproduction, young Debrauwer's disturbing, beautifully acted film dramatizes the abandonment of a profoundly retarded woman by her two self-absorbed younger sisters, and those willing to make the leap will find in it an ugly representation of the world's inhumanity. At the center of the piece we find an extraordinary actress named Dora van der Groen, in whose halting, plain-faced heroine every careless slight registers before her attention flicks on to something else: We get the inescapable sense that the fogs of Pauline's consciousness are being pierced by a hurt that's both cumulative and permanent. Certainly we glimpse in these vivid 75 minutes not the banality of evil but its nasty little cousin, the ease of neglect. With Ann Petersen and Rosemarie Bergmans as the sisters Paulette and Cecile, respectively. Opens May 17 at the Plaza Frontenac. (BG)
The Piano Teacher. Michael Haneke. The most remarkable thing about this French film, aside from Isabelle Huppert's unnerving and masterful performance, is the totally nonexploitative manner in which the story -- a tale of sadomasochism and self-destruction -- is presented. Huppert plays Erika Kohut, a dour, rigidly self-contained woman in her early forties who still lives with her mother and teaches piano at a prestigious Viennese conservatory. When not fighting with her mother (a bizarre ritual of love and hate that plays itself out over and over again) or bullying her students, Erika can be found at the local sex shop or drive-in theater, where she spies on couples making love. Her face, however, remains impassive. Not even her eyes register emotion. The story kicks into high gear when Walter, a handsome student twenty years Erika's junior, fancies himself in love with her. After initially resisting his entreaties, Erika attempts to enlist him in the sadomasochistic fantasies that fuel her inner life. Perverse though it is, the film, the Grand Prize winner at last year's Cannes Film Festival, isn't interested in catering to viewers' voyeuristic curiosity. A therapist, however, would have a field day with Erika, a poster child for emotional disconnectedness. German-born director Haneke makes no judgments about Erika, nor is he interested in probing the whys and wherefores of her behavior. Opens May 17 at the Tivoli. (JO)
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. George Lucas. Opens May 16 at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.
The Triumph of Love. Claire Peploe. An eighteenth-century battle of the sexes that contains a radiant performance by Mira Sorvino as a princess whose complicated scheme to win the man she loves finds her juggling three suitors at once, all while disguised as a man! "I'm losing track of my own plot," she giddily confesses at one point, and no wonder. To win the heart of young Agis, she must not only hide her royal identity and disguise her sex but also woo and win the hearts of the brother (Sir Ben Kingsley) and sister (Fiona Shaw) who serve as the young man's guardians. Adapted from a play by a popular French dramatist of the day, the story takes a satirical swipe at the au courant philosophy of the era, Rationalism, which extolled reason -- rather than observation, faith or emotion -- as the guiding principle in life. Despite the gorgeous Italian locations and constantly roving camera, the movie can't help but betray its theatrical roots, but that doesn't prove a major problem. The silly plot and, at times, overly broad comedy get a bit wearing, but the film is worth seeing for Sorvino, who hasn't been this good since Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite, a role that couldn't be more dissimilar. Opens May 17 at the Plaza Frontenac. (JO)