Week of February 13, 2002

Art and Cultural Awakenings: Middle Eastern Film. The Missouri Historical Society presents a series highlighting Islamic and Arab cultures. This week's film is Udayan Prasad's My Son the Fanatic. London-born novelist/screenwriter Hanif Kureishi doesn't have Margaret Thatcher to kick around anymore (as he did so incisively and effectively in My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid), but his concerns have not wandered too far afield. Universal issues still inspire him, but he now addresses the less semantically abrasive themes of alienation, the clash of cultures, conflicts between parents and children, love, loyalty and religion. My Son the Fanatic concerns Parvez (Om Puri), a reserved Pakistani taxi driver who moved to the industrial north of Britain 25 years earlier. Well-meaning but not overly ambitious, Parvez believes he has provided a secure and respectable life for his wife, Minoo, and teenage son, Farid (Akbar Kurtha), who, unbeknownst to Parvez, has become obsessed with Islamic fundamentalism. Puri brings a nice combination of confusion, earnestness and warmth to the role of Parvez. Admirers of Kureishi's work will want to see the picture; those unfamiliar with his previous writing will find an amiable, if slight, effort. The film's unexpectedly evocative look, courtesy of cinematographer Alan Almond, lends an edginess to the proceedings that helps take the story out of the realm of straight comedy and into the more complex universe its characters inhabit. Plays at 7 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Missouri Historical Society. (JO)

Cinefeminism: Three Decades of American Female Directors. Fontbonne College presents a series dedicated to underappreciated films by female directors. This week's feature is Lizzie Borden's Born in Flames (1983). When it first appeared in the early 1980s, Borden's Born in Flames was admired as much for its gritty energy and post-New Wave urban aesthetic as for its well-intentioned if vague radical stance. (The rambling story involves a feminist radical group in a future post-revolutionary America.) Twenty years later, with its pseudo-Marxist models less fashionable (younger viewers may be a little surprised bu the film's off-the-cuff endorsement of terms such as "terrorism") and its ideology still a bit hard to pin down, but its energy remains infectious and Borden's understatedly satirical approach now appears almost prescient, allowing the film to indulge in its radical fantasies while seeing their farfetched side as well. Sadly, Borden has slipped into obscurity in recent years; her lively debut and its follow-up, Working Girls, remain minor landmarks of a younger and less pretentious independent cinema. Plays at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Fontbonne College library. (RH)

Films of Frederick Wiseman. Webster University presents a series of films by documentary director Frederick Wiseman. If Wiseman isn't the greatest living American filmmaker (as one recent magazine article boldly claimed), he certainly holds the undisputed title of the cinema's greatest social scientist. Wiseman's films, ranging in length from a lean 85 minutes to day-long marathons, are no-frills cinema verité at its purest, chronicling -- perhaps even dismantling -- the inner workings of social structures and institutions ranging from high schools, boot camps and welfare offices to racetracks and department stores. Though he avoids narrative or offscreen commentary, he's no simple voyeur; carefully editing weeks of footage with an analytical eye, Wiseman's cameras slip through the cracks of their subject matter and penetrate their public images to expose the subtle dynamics of power within. This week features Basic Training, Wiseman's examination of boot camp. Plays at 7 p.m. Feb.14 at Webster University. (RH)

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