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Capsule reviews 

At All Costs; Close-Up; Eeny Meeny; The Jazzman From the Gulag; Mask of Desire; Handsome Arno; Nowhere to Hide; Our Song; Return of the Idiot; Seduced and Abandoned; This Years Love; Trixie; Voyages; Wisconsin Death Trip

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At All Costs (France, 1996)

Claire Simon's rather pointless documentary follows a French entrepreneur as he struggles to keep his food service venture afloat. Jihad, the owner, desperately pleads with his employees, suppliers, and creditors to accept less than what's due, juggling his ever-dwindling cash and credit. This goes on for more than a year, and for some reason his employees don't leave, though he does let one go. When someone asks Jihad why he's even in this business, he evades the question. Simon appears not to care. She seems to find Jihad's futile exercises interesting without finding him intriguing. You could call this an existentialist documentary, but even existentialism isn't this bleak. (Joe Mader)

Sunday, April 23, 1 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Thursday, April 27, 9:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Sunday, April 30, 8:30 p.m., PFA

Close-Up (Iran, 1990)

Of all Kiarostami's obsessed men, this character is the most interesting: The real-life Hossein Sabzian, jobless admirer of beloved film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, falls into a chance to impersonate Makhmalbaf one day on a bus, setting off a chain of events in which he deludes an entire family into believing they'll star in his next movie. Sabzian rides this "close-up" as far as it goes, even into his arrest and trial for fraud, which Kiarostami documents as well as telling the story through re-enactments by the actual players. This is a fascinating and penetrating study of celebrity, self-respect, and cinephilia, rendered in Kiarostami's unique blend of documentary and re-creation. (Frako Loden)

Saturday, April 22, 7:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Eeny Meeny (Czech Republic, 2000)

The acerbic spirit of Luis Buñuel infects Alice Nellis' perceptive look at post-Curtain Czech politics. A small-town polling precinct provides a carnival of vapid imagery, meaningless ballots, and a matriarch of a precinct captain straight out of Orwell: politics, in other words, as usual. In this setting James Joyce, gin, the mambo, and other symbols of spiritual and intellectual freedom are only so many masses-friendly opiates, and the pursuit of democracy is as futile as a playground rhyme. (Matthew Stafford)

Friday, April 21, 7 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Sunday, April 23, 1:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Saturday, April 29, 2:30 p.m., PFA

The Jazzman From the Gulag

(France, 1999)

The wonderful, horrible life of world-class trumpet player and bandleader Eddie Rosner -- whose brilliant career was short-circuited first by Hitler and then by Stalin -- encapsulates the depth of midcentury tragedy. So why is this invigorating French documentary so, well, exuberant? It must be all that big band swing music, and the irrepressible grin on Rosner's face every second he's onstage. There's something absurdist and even unbelievable about this story; in fact, there are stretches in which it plays like a mockumentary. Ultimately, though, the film is zany and alive in a way that Ken Burns' upcoming marathon PBS series on jazz won't begin to approach. (Michael Fox)

Sunday, April 23, 3:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 24, 4 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Jesus Son (U.S.A., 1999)

Stylish though it is, this latest feature from Alison Maclean (Crush, Kitchen Sink) begs the question: Do we need yet another tale of a lost soul tripping through junkiedom on his way to recovery? Based on a short story collection by Denis Johnson, the film follows the lead character, accurately nicknamed Fuckhead (the ubiquitous Billy Crudup), who is terminally in need of a shower. He scores dope, fights with his girlfriend, and watches her shoot up until she ODs and he bottoms out. The film gets better when Fuckhead straightens out, emerges from his drug-induced haze, and meets a sober Dennis Hopper and a touching eccentric on crutches (Holly Hunter -- we knew she coveted Rosanna Arquette's role in Crash), whose previous boyfriends have come to bad ends. There are some beautiful touches, but it's difficult to admire a film that gives one the feeling Nancy Reagan may have been right. (Sura Wood)

Friday, April 21, 4 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Saturday, April 22, 10 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Lies (South Korea, 1999)

Jang Sun-Woo (Timeless, Bottomless, Bad Movie) continues charting the terrain of urban Korean sexual mores in his most controversial film yet. Here he achieves transcendence in the chronicle of an affair between a teenage girl and a nearly middle-aged married man. The uncompromising lovers, obsessed with escalating the passion and pain they can give to each other, gradually shed all other obligations until they're down to "four walls within which to make love." Occasionally the camera draws back to remind us of the emotional peril that the first-time actors risked to undertake their roles. This superb love story explores the body's capacity for enduring passion. (Frako Loden)

Sunday, April 23, 9:45 p.m., Castro

Long Nights Journey Into Day

(U.S.A., 2000)

East Bay filmmakers Francis Reid and Deborah Hoffmann spent three years shooting this documentary about the work of South Africa's TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission). The result is a superb examination of the lingering effects of, and righteous attempts to heal from, the massive carnage that accompanied apartheid. The directors frame the story in four vignettes of murder and amnesty -- the famous Amy Biehl case, the bombing of a bar frequented by Afrikaner police, and two exceptionally brutal massacres of blacks by white, government-sanctioned death squads. These moving stories together form a chilling but ultimately hopeful picture of the human capacity for both evil and contrition. (Gary Morris)

Friday, April 21, 7:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Mask of Desire (Nepal/Japan, 1999)

A beautiful spirit medium who thinks of herself as a pawn of the gods, cursed never to experience love, tries to exorcise an evil spirit that has killed the infant son of a young couple in Katmandu at the same time she's passionately drawn to the couple's love for each other. Inspired by a true incident, this first feature film made in Nepal is at once a psychological study of the loss of a child and a finely sublimated observation of the dynamics of marriage and family in flux. Fittingly, it's also a gorgeous animated postcard of this ancient city. (Frako Loden)

Friday, April 21, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Friday, April 28, 4:30 p.m., PFA; Sunday, April 30, 6:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki

No Coffee, No T.V., No Sex

(Switzerland, 1999)

Handsome Arno (Vincent Coppey) is emotionally distant, abstaining from love and life. Attractive Nina (Alexandra Tiedemann) is in love with his best friend, Maurizio. Naturally, Arno and Nina fall for each other: They're both good-looking, you see. Writer/director Romed Wyder's ménage à trois tarts up a standard story of a guy Recalled to Life. How will Arno and Nina's upcoming marriage of convenience (Nina needs a work permit and Maurizio's already in a sham marriage of his own) affect everyone? Like you care. After much misery, it all works out, and Arno learns that he is Capable of Love. The film's slacker/boho atmosphere can be seductive, but nothing else is. (Joe Mader)

Friday, April 21, 7:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Sunday, April 23, 9:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Saturday, April 29, 2 p.m., Rafael

Nowhere to Hide (South Korea, 1999)

This action movie, with its lurid colors, stylistic filigrees (including stop-motion and digital doodling), and comic book sensibilities, is vastly more entertaining than most similar American offerings. It also avoids the operatic pretentiousness of the (unjustly) admired Hong Kong flicks -- this film knows it's pop junk. The standard plot nonsense pits irresistible force Park Joong-Hoon (a cop with a hipster's slouch) against the immovable object of An Sung-Ki, super-bad drug kingpin. In director Lee Myung-Se's world, snow doesn't blow, rain doesn't fall, and mud doesn't splash without really cool lighting. Nowhere to Hide is a blast. (Joe Mader)

Friday, April 21, 10:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Saturday, April 22, 10:15 p.m., PFA; Tuesday, April 25, 12:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Our Song (U.S.A., 1999)

Writer/director Jim McKay's film of three teenage girls in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, is sometimes heavy-handed. It features a litany of social ills -- teen pregnancy, absent fathers, asbestos-poisoned schools -- and some melodramatic plot points, but McKay has a beautiful rapport with his young (and unconventionally beautiful) actresses: Kerry Washington as Lanisha, Melissa Martinez as Maria, and Anna Simpson as Joycelyn. The naturalness with which they gossip, giggle, hurt, and comfort one another movingly reveals their relationships and struggles. The Jackie Robinson Center Steppers Marching Band also plays a prominent role. (The girls are members.) McKay avoids easy conclusions and judgments and gets at the truths of these lives. (Joe Mader)

Friday, April 21, 7 p.m., PFA; Saturday, April 22, 7:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 24, 1 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Return of the Idiot (Czech Republic, 1999)

A simple fellow of the Dostoevskian variety descends upon a somber small-town family, serving as silent witness to its members' sexual secrets and lies and developing a nosebleed at every emotional upset (which is often). Writer/director Sasa Gedeon's stark drama is rife with Resnaisian flashbacks, Freudian symbolism, and Kafka-esque angst, all of it served up with the utmost earnestness, but the results are often compelling. (Matthew Stafford)

Sunday, April 23, 6:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Sunday, April 30, 9 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Seduced and Abandoned (Italy, 1963)

This isn't the melodrama the title implies, but rather a satire of middle-class Italian mores from Pietro Germi, a director whose legion of admirers includes Nicolas Ray, Federico Fellini, and Martin Scorsese. There's much bellowing in this over-the-top, slightly dated escapade, in which a young woman is seduced by her sister's fiance; when the family patriarch discovers his daughter's loss of virtue, he locks her in her room and sets out to restore her honor. Papa attempts to force the scoundrel to marry her, but the man protests that he's entitled to a virgin. In this sendup of Italian bureaucracy, the Catholic Church, and the hypocrisy of the Madonna/ whore double standard, even the notoriously late Italian railway doesn't escape Germi's artfully aimed lampoons. (Sura Wood)

Monday, April 24, 9:15 p.m., Castro

This Years Love (England, 1999)

The love lives of six British subterraneans (a tattoo artist, a rock musician, a dress designer, a painter, an intellectual, and a nerd) detach and dovetail in David Kane's lively, quasi-comic look at modern romance. The myriad accents are occasionally diffi-cult to navigate, but Kane's sense of color, cinematics, and London atmosphere is dazzling, the actors possess plenty of understated charisma, and Catherine McCormack, as Hannah the dress designer, is a star of the classic tradition. Moral: The right person may not be out there, but at least there are plenty of opportunities to find out. (Matthew Stafford)

Friday, April 21, 10 p.m., Castro; Friday, April 28, 9:45 p.m., Rafael

Trixie (U.S.A., 2000)

Alan Rudolph's new film centers on Trixie, a poorly educated security guard who dreams of being a cop and cracking a big case. Unfortunately, Rudolph's attempts at characterization extend only to Trixie's speech patterns -- nonstop malapropisms and redundancies ("I have an ace up my hole"; "Beating a dead horse to death"). Emily Watson as Trixie has a sweet Chicago accent and a sly look that implies some sort of gumption and smarts, even when the script keeps undermining her. Dermot Mulroney is also rather sweet as a clumsy lothario unaware of his failings, but this post-Fargo farrago is never more than a writer's conceit. (Joe Mader)

Monday, April 24, 7 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, April 26, 4 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Voyages (France, 1999)

It's an audacious gamble and even, some might say, obscene, to make a film that presumes to imagine the repercussions of the Holocaust on elderly survivors half a century later. But it pays off marvelously here, as longtime Kieslowski collaborator Emmanuel Finkiel links three stories set in Poland, Paris, and Tel Aviv into a reverie on the relentless power of memory in everyday life. Constructed around three remarkably strong women, Voyages has a unique tension: It is contemplative without being the least bit hesitant. The viewer is invited to interpret every glance and every pause, and is rewarded accordingly. (Michael Fox)

Sunday, April 23, 6:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 24, 6:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Wisconsin Death Trip

(U.S.A./England, 1999)

If black-and-white maestro Chris Münch (the Lennon-Epstein featurette The Hours and Times) had made Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, it would look something like this. Michael Lesy's 1973 cult-fave book, which inspired this film, was a deadpan Gothic compilation of photos and news accounts of an 1890s plague of homicide, suicide, and insanity visited upon an upper Midwest hamlet. This gruesome material is re-enacted with loving, sordid excess to progressively diminishing returns, overshadowing a haunting portrait of desperate immigrants unable to adapt to the culture or the climate. By intercutting contemporary color footage of the "picturesque" locals, director James Marsh gives the whole venture an odor of condescension. (Michael Fox)

Sunday, April 23, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Tuesday, April 25, 7:10 p.m., AMC Kabuki

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