San Francisco International Film Festival

THE 48TH ANNUAL San Francisco International Film Festival runs April 21-May 5. Venues are the AMC Kabuki 8 Theatre, 1881 Post, S.F.; Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, S.F.; Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, 3301 Lyon, S.F.; PFA Theater, 2575 Bancroft, Berk; and Aquarius Theatre, 430 Emerson, Palo Alto. Tickets (most shows $7.50-$12) can be purchased at the Kabuki, at the Virgin Megastore (2 Stockton, S.F.), by calling (925) 866-9559, or by going to

Week one


Cinévardaphoto (Agnès Varda, France, 2004) Agnès Varda's latest feature, a triptych of short works from different decades, allows her a first-person engagement with photography and memory. The first and most recent, "Ydessa, les ours, et etc...," focuses on Ydessa Hendeles, a curator-as-artist who has assembled a gargantuan exhibition of photos of people with teddy bears. The flame-haired yet bloodless Hendeles makes for a remote subject, but her show, which spills over into some surprisingly unsettling thematic territory, is – on the surface, at least – ideal for Varda's playful musing. Still, Varda's other, comparatively autobiographical works ring truer. 1982's "Ulysse" finds the director revisiting a 1954 beachside art photo she took, and discovering, to her discomfort, that the picture's subjects share very few of the same memories. The final chapter might be the best: 1963's "Salut les Cubains" is a dance film composed of still photos – some 1,800 – taken during a trip to Cuba. In all three shorts, Varda's vision seems to darken with the knowledge that photos fade, an inevitability this movie both meditates on and fights against. 5 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sun/24, 2 p.m., Kabuki; April 27, 7 p.m., PFA. (Johnny Ray Huston)

Edgar G. Ulmer – The Man Off Screen (Michael Palm, Austria, 2004) Many filmmakers have gained esteem with the passing of time, but has any stock risen like that of B movie hawk Edgar G. Ulmer? The politique d'auteur collides remorselessly with bottom-of-the-barrel production in the films he left behind; their endearing anachronism delights B movie hounds and auteurists alike. Edgar G. Ulmer – The Man Off Screen employs a textbook talking-head structure, but it's hard not to score with this subject. Loving recollections of Ulmer's directing style and a careful probing of his artistic insecurities combine to convey an impossibly intriguing mystery of a man – only appropriate given the otherworldliness of classics like The Black Cat and Detour. At 77 minutes, this is longer than most of the director's über-economical features, but it is, to be sure, time well spent. 7:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also Mon/25, 10 a.m. and 6:15 p.m., Kabuki. (Max Goldberg)

Innocence (Lucile Hadzihalilovic, France, 2004) Sometimes a film's influences are enough to make it great. Fans of Suspiria, Picnic at Hanging Rock, and Spirit of the Beehive will find much to admire in Lucile Hadzihalilovic's unique debut, which brings sensuality and surrealism to a European cinema that has become oh so solemn and talky of late. This is a foreboding fantasia, set at a mysterious girls' boarding school where the students arrive alive but in coffins – and wind up dead and burning in them, if their escape plans go awry. Adapting a short story by Franz Wedekind, Hadzihalilovic has fashioned a coming-of-age allegory about girlhood. It is silly at times, but it casts enough of a spell to create a world of its own. The director is married to Gaspar Noé, and the primary link between her work and his is cinematographer Benoît Debie, who brings a fluid, feminine touch to the show-offy swooping athleticism of the camera movements he favored in Irreversible. Like Noé's calculated outrage, Innocence ends with the blaze of the sun and the spray of water, but Hadzihalilovic realizes that when you don't show or tell everything, what you do reveal is all the more fascinating. 9 p.m., PFA. Also Sun/24, noon, Castro; Mon/25, 4:15 p.m., Kabuki. (Huston)

Kings and Queen (Arnaud Desplechin, France, 2005) This latest multistrand narrative from French director-coscenarist Arnaud Desplechin (Esther Khan) comes in three interlocking chapters, with two characters dominating. There's art gallery director Nora (Emmanuelle Devos), a 35-year-old gamine act so polished that the strains of "Moon River" follow her around; and violinist Ismael (Mathieu Amalric), an ex-husband so close to suicide that he's hustled into an institution (where Catherine Deneuve is his shrink) five minutes after we meet him. Poor Nora – survivor of failed marriages, mother to an angry 10-year-old boy, sister to a major screw-up, daughter to a famed writer-philosopher she now learns is dying of cancer. As with any model waif, her reaction is to cry a lot, whine for help, and put on an unconvincing brave face. But as this tale wends through its two-and-a-half-hour progress, we (and the characters) learn that appearances can be very deceptive. These people are fallible, not always sympathetic, sometimes downright appalling – yet they are fully dimensionalized, and their careening progress is bizarre yet credible. You might not want any of them in your life, but as train wrecks comfortably distanced by celluloid, they make for excellent, often hilarious company. 8 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sun/24, 8:30 p.m., PFA. (Dennis Harvey)

Three ... Extremes (Fruit Chan, Park Chan-Wook, and Takashi Miike, Hong Kong/South Korea/Japan, 2004) Three of Asia's most thrilling directors contribute to this anthology of unease. The feature-length version of Fruit Chan's "Dumplings" played at this year's San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, but even in shorter form it sets Three ... Extremes off on a path of gruesome delights. Bai Ling stars as a woman whose dumplings owe their youth-restoring properties to a taboo ingredient (lensed in brilliant crimson by Christopher Doyle). "Dumplings" 's creepy crunch-crunch-crunch bridges into "Cut," in which Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy) checks in with his favorite theme – revenge – with the story of a film director and his wife who are taken hostage by an outraged background actor. Takashi Miike brings Three ... Extremes to a baffling close; his "Box," about a circus performer turned novelist haunted by her dead twin sister, is eerily quiet and fantastically ambiguous. Midnight, Kabuki. Also Tues/26, 3:15 p.m., Kabuki. (Cheryl Eddy)

3-Iron (Kim Ki-Duk, South Korea, 2004) South Korean director Kim Ki-Duk tends to divide viewers into two distinct groups: avid enthusiasts who think his films – most of which center on brooding hunks with violent natures, sexually unfulfilled housewives and/or nubile if assertive schoolgirls (either of which will naturally aspire to lives of gold-hearted prostitution), and occasional cutaways to white-plaster lawn statues meant to suggest the lineaments of finer culture – are something altogether new, and skeptics who would rather spend two hours sticking hot needles in their eyes. If you're as yet undecided, this insipid teenage fantasy – in which an expensively hairdo'd young rebel-in-his-own-mind breaks into vacationing families' homes, takes a shower and a couple of pictures, and hops back onto his BMW motorbike, leaving only a mindfuck behind – may do the trick. When bike boy finds an abused wife and a set of golf clubs in one of the houses, an uneasy mixture of tenderness and vigilantism starts to unfold, but Kim's last-reel relapse into ludicrous fantasy and an entirely noxious ratification of the status quo confirm the director's sexual politics as reactionary at best. 9:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also Mon/25, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki. (Chuck Stephens)

Three Times Two (Pavel Giroud, Lester Hamlet, and Esteban Insausti, Cuba, 2004) The omnibus is a tempting format, something like the variety cereal pack of the film world. Three Times Two washes up on American shores with three half-hour films, all directed by thirtysomething Cubans. While the episodic structure holds a certain degree of attention, a mediocre short times three makes for a blah 90 minutes at the cinema. Opener "Flash" is billed as Hitchcockian, which only makes its tired attempts at a watching-you-watch-me thriller all the more uninspired. "Lila," the middle act, is a shapeless musical of politics and lost love on par with The Notebook. By the time we get to "Luz Roja" – a distinctly unerotic sex yarn – we're wishing we hadn't opened that third box of sugar-coated flakes. 4:45 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sun/24, 10 p.m., Kabuki; April 30, 6:45 p.m., Kabuki. (Goldberg)


Chokher Bali: A Passion Play (Rituparno Ghosh, India, 2003) Despite its generous length (nearly three hours) and luminous star (Bride and Prejudice's Aishwarya Rai), India's Chokher Bali: A Passion Play is no Bollywood spectacle. Based on a 1902 novel by Bengali author Rabindranath Tagore, this talky melodrama mixes a bit of politics into a Calcutta love quadrangle that sparks between educated young widow Binodini (Rai), lifelong friends and med students Mahendra (Prosenhit Chatterjee) and Behari (Tota Raychaudhuri), and Mahendra's wife, Ashalata (Raima Sen). Somewhat tediously, director Rituparno Ghosh relies on illicit letters, read aloud in voice-over, to color in emotions the characters don't dare express aloud. If you can make it through Chokher Bali's first reel, which packs a lot of backstory into precious few minutes, you'll be rewarded by this engrossing, beautifully shot film, which manages to evoke sympathy for Binodini even as she's making like a home-wrecker. 6:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 1, 8 p.m., Aquarius. (Eddy)

Dealer (Benedek Fliegauf, Hungary, 2004) There will be walkouts aplenty during this striking and/or maddening Hungarian feature, but if you can surrender to its nodding-out rhythms and air of apocalyptic resignation, it's a hypnotic experience – as if Sokurov remade Liquid Sky as Drugstore Zombie. An impassively handsome drug dealer (Felicián Keresztes) makes his daily rounds on a bicycle – no pimpmobile here – with each stop offering a mini-psychodrama of bleak, grotesque, or flabbergasting dimensions. Anamorphic wide-screen lensing, an ambient soundtrack, scant dialogue, and I.V.-drip pacing complete the minimalist-cum-monumentalist aesthetic here, which is as transfixing or stultifying as watching a space pod drift into the void. Sue me; I liked it a lot. 9 p.m., PFA. Also April 27, 8:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 5, 1:15 p.m., Kabuki. (Harvey)

Low Life (Im Kwon-Taek, South Korea, 2004) Armed with a title right up film noir's darkened alley, South Korean filmmaker Im Kwon-Taek hurtles forth with Low Life. The master director's 99th film happens to clock in at just so many minutes; despite falling well short of the two-hour mark, it has a grandeur on par with mobster classics like Once upon a Time in America and the first two installments of The Godfather. Like those films, Low Life's narrative inextricably links a character's arc with that of a country's; by the inevitably exhausting finish, we've experienced history as much as a character's story. In Low Life's case, this means weaving through South Korea's tumultuous postwar years on the back of gangster Choi Tae-Ung, an ambitious figure who deftly navigates the country's evolving underworld – an occupation that necessarily involves him in the political sphere. One look at Im's triumphant soundstage rendition of '50s and '60s South Korea is all it takes to know we're in good hands. 6:45 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sun/24, 9:45 p.m., Kabuki. (Goldberg)

Los muertos (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina, 2004) There are those who will tell you director Lisandro Alonso's second film is the Argentine equivalent of Thailand's Blissfully Yours – a piece of third-world, real-time drift-cinema, languorous and landscape-focused, content to observe an hour's worth of nothing in order to explore the effects of provocative punctuations centered on sexual physicality, psychologically heightened violence, or both. In those senses, the comparison is apt enough, even if the difference between those last two possibilities reveals an almost unbridgeable chasm between sensibilities. Where the blissfully inclined Apichatpong Weerasethakul is looking for liberation in those intensified instants of full-frontal or (in the case of the recent Tropical Malady) frontal-lobe carnality, Alonso deploys the something-happens moments – as when Los muertos's freshly released convict fatefully encounters a hooker or a goat – with an almost Hitchcockian relish, limit-testing the ways our emotions are almost always head-cuffed to a sense of impending doom. The film's celebrated opening episode – a single-take jungle sequence involving a slaughter that takes place just off-screen – is indeed riveting, but the true meaning of Los muertos is its ability to make even a cutaway to a pair of plastic toys lying discarded in the dirt seem the scariest thing you've ever seen. 9:45 p.m., Kabuki. Also Tues/26, 2:15 p.m., Kabuki; April 30, 7:15 p.m., PFA. (Stephens)

Palindromes (Todd Solondz, USA, 2005) Can a satirist be accused of being too mean? Filmmaker Todd Solondz kills off Welcome to the Dollhouse's beloved ur-geek Dawn Weiner, a.k.a. Dog-Face, in the first minutes of Palindromes – and things spiral down (or up, depending on how you feel about babies having babies) from there. Dawn's 13-year-old cousin Aviva (played by women and girls of various races and ages in addition to a boy) embarks on a quixotic, innocent quest to get pregnant as quickly and as often as possible, and Solondz squeezes the maximum cringe factor out of every awkward adventure, as well as great performances out of players like Ellen Barkin, testing the limits of white liberal tolerance with the wickedly spot-on yet empathetic eye of the perpetual underdog, while stretching the conventions embedded in the "family drama" narrative (like being able to identify with the protagonist). How do you feel about teen pregnancy versus parent-strong-armed abortion, bumbling abortionists versus right-to-life snipers, Christian communes for the disabled versus bad Jesus-in-a-boy-band-style pop? If Palindromes makes it out of the "not rated," indie ghetto, this sour but sweet take-off on after-school TV specials could trigger hours of parent-child conversations. 2:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also Mon/25, 7 p.m., PFA. (Kimberly Chun)

Street Angel (Frank Borzage, USA, 1928) She's gone out of fashion, and he's long forgotten, but Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell were America's sweethearts in the late 1920s and early '30s. She was almost invariably the waif in need of rescuing, he just the waif rescuer called for – though of course there were several reels of near-tragic obstacles to overcome before the fade-out clinch. Several among their dozen shared vehicles are never revived, no doubt for good reason, but at least two are late-silent-era masterpieces: 1927's Seventh Heaven and this, its next-year follow-up. Both were directed by Frank Borzage, who would continue bestowing delicate if erratic artistry on oft-treacly pulp scripts for many more years. Street Angel involves a woman forced into prostitution and a starving artist who – well, whatever. At their best, these actors and this director could suspend disbelief even under the most ludicrous, string-pulling circumstances. This screening should get an extra emotional push from the first film score composed and performed live by San Francisco's reunited American Music Club. 9 p.m., Palace of Fine Arts. (Harvey)

10th District Court: Moments of Trials (Raymond Depardon, France, 2004) The popular take on this doc by Raymond Depardon, whose Profiles Farmers: Daily Life also plays this year's fest, is that it's a French Judge Judy. But that shorthand description ignores the plentiful differences between actual French courtroom proceedings and televised American ones. Depardon – who shot 169 cases, narrowing the final selection down to a dozen – does seem to encourage audiences to at least smirk at the initial defendants, a gallery of bullshitters who range from a faux bohemian in denial about her drunk driving to a man guilty of calling a meter maid a bitch. As they clumsily attempt to evade the truth, the director frequently highlights Judge Michèle Bernard Requin's exasperation, even when she isn't giving voice to it. The mood grows more somber, however, with the arrival of a domestic violence case. Overall, Requin isn't shy about handing out guilty verdicts, many if not all deserved. But when she moves through fast-track hearings involving illegal immigration, pickpocketing, and weed dealing, one begins to suspect French nationalism, and racism, is playing a role in the degree of the punishments doled out. 1:45 p.m., Kabuki. Also Tues/26, 9:15 p.m., PFA. (Huston)

Touchez pas au grisbi (Jacques Becker, France, 1954) The French have always had a markedly different take on the gangster film from their American counterparts. Classics like Rififi and Bob le Flambeur play as minor-key B-sides to the likes of Scarface and Little Caesar. Jacques Becker's Touchez pas au grisbi provides a genesis for this French inversion: the American penchant for terse action and taut characterizations giving way to a cooled, meditative tone. The film's protagonist, Max, is hardly the archetypal ambitious gangster antihero; rather, Becker pictures him as a weary veteran, content to live off a late-life score we never actually see. Where the best American gangster films careen toward their inevitably violent conclusions, Touchez pas elapses one minute at a time. Max – played with every breath by Jean Gabin – reluctantly navigates the film's underworld. He isn't madly hell-bent on a violent resolution so much as quietly resigned to it. Hugely influential on later, more heralded French gangster pictures – and for that matter, on the air of detachment that so colors modern cinema – Touchez pas is that rarest of art breeds: a modest masterpiece. It was selected by programmer Anita Monga, winner of this year's Mel Novikoff Award; she'll be interviewed at the screening. 4:30 p.m., Palace of Fine Arts. (Goldberg)

Whisky Romeo Zulu (Enrique Piñeyro, Argentina, 2004) Named for the Linea Aerea Privada Argentina jet that plowed into Buenos Aires in 1999, Whisky Romeo Zulu is a docudrama in the most literal sense. Before he branched out into showbiz, the film's writer, director, and star, Enrique Piñeyro, was a LAPA pilot whose outspokenness about the carrier's lackluster regard for safety made him first an outcast, then a whistle-blower (via a written complaint that was published in the New York Times months before the crash). The flight data recorder from the doomed aircraft plays over the credits (ominously: "What the hell is going on?"), after which the film backtracks to follow a scruffy pilot (Piñeyro) weary of squeaking through trips plagued by problems his bosses would rather not hear tell of, much less repair. Whisky adds depth with subplots about the pilot's reconnecting with his childhood sweetheart (ironically, now a LAPA public-relations flack), as well as an investigator menaced for taking LAPA to task after the disaster. A poignant coda using real news footage ensures Whisky Romeo Zulu isn't simply a smear piece; its inevitable air of I-told-you-so rings far more tragic than smug. 4:10 p.m., PFA. Also May 1, 6 p.m., Kabuki; May 4, 6:15 p.m., Kabuki. (Eddy)

Zombie Honeymoon (Dave Gebroe, USA, 2004) Newlyweds Denise (Tracy Coogan) and Danny (Graham Sibley) are sunning on a beach when a grotesque man-thing lumbers up out of the surf, attacks Danny, ralphs some nasty gunk into his screaming piehole, and promptly expires. So does Danny at the hospital afterward, his EKG flatlining for 10 whole minutes – at which point he just "wakes up," feeling strangely fine. Except for the must-eat-human-flesh urge, that is. Dave Gebroe's outré indie isn't really the black comedy or genre spoof one might expect – though either of those options might have worked better. Instead, it's a bloody but curiously serious, even sentimental metaphor for the love that refuses to die. Cronenberg's The Fly pulled this off fairly well, but that was Cronenberg; when Gebroe combines one part Cannibal Holocaust with one part Tristan and Isolde, the twain don't quite meet. Midnight, Kabuki. Also Mon/25, 1:15 p.m., Kabuki. (Harvey)


Dear Enemy (Gjergj Xhuvani, Albania/France/Germany, 2004) Albania, 1943. As German troops invade the capital, a local grocer named Harun (Ndriçim Xhepa) hides a Communist partisan, an Italian deserter, and a Jewish watchmaker in his cellar for several months. The three in hiding are natural enemies, so the moods in the vaultlike room range from quiet stiffness to pronounced antagonism. Family ties upstairs aren't too sound either, though the domestic squabbles among Harun's relatives seem trivial compared to the full-scale invasion going on outside. Nevertheless, day-to-day banalities take the spotlight after director Gjergj Xhuvani sets the stage for potentially spicy sociopolitical conflicts. It's not a completely unwise move, but we wonder why he went through the trouble if the refugees' biggest crises are a flap over soup and the occasional cynical remark. 4:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also April 30, 1:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 4, 9 p.m., PFA. (Dave Kim)

Harvest Time (Marina Razbezhkina, Russia, 2004) A throwback both thematically and stylistically to the Soviet pure-cinema era of Dovzhenko and his imitators, Marina Razbezhkina's film is a simple cautionary tale (The Perils of Covetousness might be its Victorian subtitle) as lyrical, restive, and relentless as wind blowing through wheat fields. Its central figure is a woman who's the champion combine operator at a remote collective farm during the late Stalin period; when she's given an honorary banner for this distinction, the arrival of something materially frivolous and precious in a bare-bones but hitherto fulfilling life proves her undoing. Obsessed with the prize and its preservation (as someone notes, there's no place in a farmhouse that's safe from rats), she neglects everything else of worth – including her children and the husband who returned from World War II without his legs. This deliberately paced, lyric parable makes a rather breathtaking leap into larger cosmic truths with a coda that's as unexpected as it is devastating. 4 p.m., PFA. Also April 29, 1:45 p.m., Kabuki; May 1, 6:15 p.m., Kabuki. (Harvey)

Little Sky (María Victoria Menis, Argentina, 2004) María Victoria Menis's third feature is a quietly luminous love story of a sort you seldom see in movies – unless your notion of paternal devotion on-screen is the kind usually involving Ted Danson and pratfalls. Things start out looking like an Argentine The Postman Always Rings Twice, as, for lack of better prospects, sinewy itinerant worker Félix (Leonardo Ramírez) starts toiling for room and board at the decrepit farm owned by Roberto (Darío Levy). The latter is drunk, loud, loutish, but not entirely bad-hearted – except in the eyes of his long-suffering wife, Mercedes (Mónica Lairana), who loathes him, and to whom in return he does behave despicably. This little domesticity would be slow death for Félix too, if not for a third family member: Baby Chango (Rodrigo Silva), with whom he immediately bonds. Their beautifully unforced interactions (the result of many hours spent together off camera) give this small, ultimately sad movie a deep-dyed sweetness that overcomes any viewer resistance faster than a basketful of puppies. 3:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also Tues/26, 6:30 p.m., Kabuki. (Harvey)

The Overture (Itthi-sunthorn Wichailak, Thailand, 2004) As far from the cutting edge of contemporary Thai cinema as Bangkok is from Baltimore, director Itthi-sunthorn Wichailak's old-fashioned fictionalization of the life of Thai master musician Luang Pradit Phairao, set against a backdrop of Siamese historical change at the turn of the 20th century, manages to make up for its quaint narrative and modest filmmaking ambitions with some truly exhilarating music sequences. Fans of the wooden xylophone known as the ranad may rejoice, even if the flurries of melodic mallet work and fusion-tempo virtuosity on display will probably appeal more to world music dabblers than to fans of Lionel Hampton, let alone free-improv list makers and Henry Kaiser devotees. An enormous hit at the Thai box office last year, and the country's official (if unaccepted) submission for Oscar consideration as Best Foreign Film, The Overture is designed to offend no one – and, where international audiences are concerned, probably doomed to impress fewer still. (Full disclosure: I wrote the film's English subtitles.) 9 p.m., Kabuki. Also Tues/26, 4:15 p.m., Kabuki. (Stephens)

Pursuit of Equality (Geoff Callan and Mike Shaw, USA, 2004) On Feb. 12, 2004, the city of San Francisco issued the nation's first marriage license to a same-sex couple, kicking up a controversy that would draw reporters and cameras from around the world. To the surprise (even disappointment) of conservatives, many of the gay and lesbian partners lining up outside City Hall looked a lot like them: fully clothed, plumpish, and just as glaringly ordinary as the religious traditionalists protesting nearby. Which made it tougher to swallow the fact that same-sex couples were denied basic rights for so long. "We're normal people," a newly married lesbian assures in Pursuit of Equality. "Nobody needs to be afraid of us." This close-to-home documentary touches on some of the legal battles fought by Mayor Gavin Newsom and his staff, but directors Geoff Callan and Mike Shaw primarily focus on the human element of the struggle. Responses run the gamut from early victory celebrations to an angry Christian backlash to the crushing annulments declared six months later. The doc follows several couples, at home and at City Hall, and peeks into the mayor's quarters as the touchy civic politics play out. A must-see even for its subject matter alone, Pursuit exposes the absurdity of discrimination with its intensely personal, moment-by-moment coverage. 6:30 p.m., Castro. (Kim)


Almost Brothers (Lúcia Murat, Brazil/Chile/France, 2004) Brazilian writer-director Lúcia Murat's latest feature is a seething critique of the racial and social inequalities that linger in a country often misperceived as a harmonious melting pot of ethnicities. Set in Rio de Janeiro, during both the dictatorial 1970s and the present-day democratic advances, Almost Brothers is the hardened tale of Miguel (Werner Schuneman) and Jorge (Antonio Pompeo), whose lives run parallel despite racial and ideological differences. Dripping with dramatic pastel tints, the sequences that depict the two men's imprisonment during the 1970s are nothing short of visually stunning and lend a surreal quality to their experiences. In contrast, Murat shoots the present-day scenes, of the now middle-aged Miguel and Jorge, in a bright and highly overexposed fashion akin to that of City of God. Although Almost Brothers remains distant and somewhat emotionally elusive, its representation of the internalized trauma experienced across decades in Brazilian society is profound. 9:10 p.m., PFA. Also April 28, 6:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 1, 8:45 p.m., Kabuki. (Matthew Lake)


Layer Cake (Matthew Vaughn, England, 2004) I suppose Matthew Vaughn has earned the right to direct his first feature – yet another Guy Ritchie-style British gangster ensemble thingie – because he actually produced those Ritchie movies everyone has been imitating since. To Vaughn's credit, he goes out of his way to not duplicate his colleague's hyperkinetic camera and editing gambits – Layer Cake is just as flashy, albeit in a controlled, weighted mode that will strike Ritchie-phobes as less annoying. Still, the script is cut from the exact same cloth, emphasizing Tarantino-goes-Cockney character riffs, violent flourishes, and general tough-guy coolness over any emotional involvement or organic tension. I've already forgotten the plot – as if that matters – except that basically several different factions of underworld society are chasing after a very large quantity of missing ecstasy. This good-looking, entertaining-enough if a bit so-what-in-the-end caper could have used more humor, though it does have one brilliant line. Explaining why a badder-than-bad hetero wiseguy like him would spend so much time buggering male flunkies under less-than-consensual circumstances, a flashback figure says with a shrug, "Fuckin' birds is fer poofs." 9:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also April 30, 1 p.m., Kabuki. (Harvey)

November (Greg Harrison, USA, 2004) Wearing librarian glasses so you know this is Serious Acting, erstwhile Friend Courtney Cox plays a woman experiencing memory lapses, hallucinations, and such in the wake of the tragic corner-store shooting of her husband (James LeGros). This second feature by Greg Harrison is just as aesthetically astute as his great S.F.-set rave scene dramedy, Groove, albeit in an entirely different direction – it's cold, oppressive, literally and figuratively blue. But the thick blanket of style can't quite cover a script that finally feels overtricky and emotionally underfelt, and which might have worked better as a TV suspense-omnibus episode. November is also a wee bit too much like such similar recent jigsaw-psychology exercises as The Machinist for comfort. If it falls short of the expectations it sets up, however, it's still strong evidence that Harrison's is a talent worth following. He and Cox will appear at the screening and the subsequent Ruby Skye party. 7 p.m., Kabuki. (Harvey)

Shape of the Moon (Leonard Retel Helmrich, Netherlands, 2004) Certain documentaries open up worlds that simply demand to be seen. Such is the case with Leonard Retel Helmrich's big winner at Sundance, Shape of the Moon, wherein an Indonesian family's evolution and revolution grounds some of our world's most pressing cultural conflicts. There's no real protagonist here, but grandmother Rumidja provides a focal point. A Catholic living in Muslim Jakarta, Rumidja steps through life carefully, balancing a granddaughter's future, a son's conversion to Islam, and her own desire to recapture her bucolic roots. In filming Rumidja's world, Helmrich uncovers a family and country in flux with Shakespearean scope. 9 p.m., Kabuki. Also April 29, 4:30 p.m., PFA. (Goldberg)