2000 Seen By ...

Directed by Alain Berliner, Tsai Ming-liang and Laurent Cantet

More delirium induced by millennial fever, 2000 Seen By ... gives a group of filmmakers leave to vamp on end-of-the-century themes. (Actually, another film — Tamás and Juli, by Hungarian Ildik ó Enyedi — is also part of the series, but Webster University, which is exhibiting 2000 Seen By ... locally, was unable to secure it for screening.) The films are all set on Dec. 31, 1999, but, as you'd expect, the stories concocted by the directors are idiosyncratic, and the movies diverge wildly in style, accomplishment and seriousness of approach. Although it's mildly diverting to see where each ends up, given the common starting point, each film stands alone.

The Wall. Alain Berliner. A slight but charming variant on Romeo & Juliet, The Wall elaborates from the real tension between Flemish and French speakers in Belgium to imagine a country divided by a physical, not just a linguistic, wall. Franophone chip-stand proprietor Albert (Daniel Hanssens) has the misfortune of falling in love with a Flemish girl (Pascale Bal) on the night — New Year's Eve 1999 — the language barrier is erected. Compounding his problems, the wall cleaves in half his chip wagon, which straddles the border of the two new countries (Belgians, after all, are united in their love of pommes frites). Berliner, the director of Ma Vie en Rose, handles this potentially heavy-handed allegory with a feather-light touch (e.g., a delightful interlude in which the portly Hanssens dances gracefully with a broom) and freely introduces elements of the supernatural and surrealism into his fabulist tale — appropriate, the characters self-reflexively comment, in the land of Magritte. In Flemish and French with English subtitles. (CF)

The Hole. Tsai Ming-liang. The last week of the millennium arrives in Taipei on the heels of meteorological and biological catastrophes. Heavy, incessant rain drones on while human beings scurry about, behaving like the cockroaches that transmit the resistant virus destroying our species. Taiwan's Health Association can't contain the epidemic but quarantines and then evacuates a public housing project. Two reclusive residents have their apartments joined by a hole drilled into her ceiling/his floor as a plumber attempts to repair a leak. Tentatively, awkwardly, the man and the woman connect through this umbilical channel. Periodically, these two make brief forays out of their rooms. Director Tsai Ming-Liang interjects incongruous action as the woman indulges in fantasies of herself as the lead singer in popular 1950s song-and-dance numbers, the only moments to relieve this dreary, claustrophobic film. With little dialogue and minimal action in this metaphoric fable, this man and this woman might be the most boring people left on earth, and they certainly deserve each other. Tsai says he harbors no optimistic thoughts about the future. Neither do I after seeing The Hole. In Mandarin with English subtitles. (DC)

The Sanguinaires. Laurent Cantet. Hoping to avoid the New Year's Eve hysteria, a group of friends leave France to vacation on a rough, desolate Mediterranean island. Though they claim to simply want a peaceful holiday, it soon becomes obvious that at least one of the party, François (Frédéric Pierrot) sees the trip as a moral test of wills, a psychological arm-wrestling match with an opponent that neither he nor the film can clearly define. Though François' repetitious vitriol is as close to drama as the film gets — you could call it beating a dead horse, to use a figure of speech that becomes unpleasantly literal near the film's end — it quickly becomes fuzzy and tiresome, as does the film itself. In French with English subtitles. (RH)

Webster University screens The Wall at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 17; The Hole at 7 p.m. Sept. 18-19; and The Sanguinaires at 7 p.m. Sept. 17 and 9:15 p.m. Sept. 18.