By Kevin Thomas
Times Staff Writer
September 6, 2001
Charismatic Gerardo Taracena stars as a peasant of Indian descent who returns home after three years of working in the asparagus fields of Stockton to discover that his mother, cook on a vast old hacienda, has died, as has her employer. His son is engaged in a lethal land grab from the Indian campesinos and, since there's a water shortage, is determined to confiscate the one piece of property that has an abundant water supply.
"Back and Forth" moves from the feudal exploitation of the poor in the countryside to the bureaucratic corruption and illegal enterprises that ensnare them in Mexico City; the bitter odyssey of Taracena's character suggests that he should never have tried returning home. The festival concludes Sunday at 6 p.m. with Jaime Humberto Hermosillo's 1984 "Dona Herlinda and Her Son," a delicious satire on human behavior as conditioned by the dictates of bourgeois propriety that is as frightening as it is funny. It's about a gay couple who have everything, including, alas, the formidable mother of one of the lovers. Hermosillo, long one of Mexico's leading directors, will appear in the middle of a double feature that concludes with his new film, "Written in the Body of the Night" (Escrito en el Cuerpo de la Noche). Lloyd E. Rigler Theater at the Egyptian, 6712 Hollywood Blvd. (323) 466-FILM.
The third WinFemme Festival opens tonight at the Clarity Building Theater, 100 N. Crescent Drive (at Wilshire), Beverly Hills, and runs through Sunday.
Among the many films screening is Hilary Harris and Ayr Robinson's "Showbiz Is My Life," a succinct--a mere 53 minutes--but beguiling and illuminating introduction to three cabaret singers of different generations. They are the legendary Julie Wilson, with her trademark gardenia in her hair and her Balenciaga gowns, the last link to cabaret's glamorous past; Natalie Gamsu, a young South African of German Jewish descent who sings with passion of injustice and oppression, not just in her native country but the world over; and Baby Jane Dexter, a Greenwich Village institution who sings with a bluesy growl and who believes in performing in retirement homes as well as clubs.
These are three distinctive artists of talent, intelligence and resilience who work hard to sustain careers in small venues. They target sophisticated audiences who pay attention to what they have to say as well as their stylish delivery. Julie Wilson, who remains grounded in her unpretentious Omaha roots despite her durable glamour, tells of a listener, new to cabaret, admitting to not having realized how much "heart, soul and guts" went into so intimate a performance art. The emotion and meaning Wilson pours into her peerless renditions of Porter, Rodgers and Hart and Gershwin is of the same intensity and conviction that Dexter and Gamsu bring to their material. The documentary's title comes from a bluesy song sung by Gamsu.
Among the short films screening in the WinFemme Fest is Brian To's sly and unexpectedly poignant 27-minute vignette "Audit," in which a young Hollywood couple (Michael Kelley and Judy Greer), aspiring actors both, go to the office of an IRS auditor (Alexis Arquette) and his secretary (Sally Kirkland) and learn a great more about themselves and each other than any income tax form could ever reveal. This is a polished, witty work with sharp ensemble performances. (310) 229-5365. ("Audit" will also screen Sept. 18 at the Vista Theater in the Silverlake Film Festival.)
Japan's Nikkatsu Studios has been synonymous with edgy fare, at times home base for such masters of the increasingly rare classic period drama as Daisuke Ito, for politically critical leftists such as Tadashi Imai but most often for specialists in erotica, often with an emphasis on the bizarre. Akihiko Shiota's debut feature, "Sasayagi" (Moonlight Whispers), which screens Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. at the Sunset 5 as part of the Laemmle Theaters' "World Cinema 2001" weekend series, has been described as "an 'Afterschool Special' as directed by Luis Bunuel," and it's hard to improve upon that.
Takuya Hidaka (Kenji Mizyhashi) and Satsuki Kitahara (Tsugumi) look as innocent as Ken and Barbie. They're high school students who belong to the school's Kendo Club, where they joust with wooden swords in an ancient form of martial arts. The shy Takuya is stunned to learn that his feelings for Satsuki are not unwelcome; indeed, she's willing to lose her virginity to him, but he discovers that he's too much the sexual fetishist to want to go through with it. At first she wonders how it is possible that he could so treasure one of her bobby socks when she was willing to give him a far more precious gift, but Takukya's literally dog-like behavior gradually unleashes in her a latent dominatrix spirit. It's Satsuki the ferocious wonder woman of kendo that Takuya clearly prefers.
What lifts the picture above sexploitation fare is Shiota's sly sense of dark, absurdist humor combined with his sharp depiction of two individuals who are notably self-aware and forthright. "Sasayagi," which screens Sept. 15 and 16 at 11 a.m. at the Monica 4-Plex, is pretty kinky for matinee fare. Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., (323) 848-3500; Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9741.
As part of its "Jewish Cultures: Lost and Found" film and lecture series, the Skirball Cultural Center presents Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Ron Frank's 57-minute documentary, "The Eternal Road: An Encounter With the Past," which relates how the old industrial city of Chemnitz, formerly in East Germany, staged the German premiere of "The Eternal Road," Franz Werfel and Kurt Weill's biblical opera conceived by journalist and Zionist leader Meyer Weisgal in the 1930s to awaken the world to the plight of the Jews in Nazi Germany.
Frank might well have spent a little less time recounting in such detail the rise of Hitler and Nazism and a little more on the individuals involved in this momentous event, but "The Eternal Road" is nonetheless an eloquent work that makes good use of archival footage both fresh and familiar. (323) 655-8587. Note: The documentary airs on KCET Sept. 19 at 10 p.m.
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