Times Staff Writer

Celebrating International Women's Month, the Fox International will present from Friday through March 14 a festival of films made by women. (Most of the screenings will be local premieres.)

Launching the series on Friday will be the world premiere of actress-director Lee Grant's "What Sex Am I?," a sensitive, harrowing yet candid documentary on transsexuals and transvestites, at once poignant and astonishingly revealing. Grant dares to ask the most intimate questions imaginable; the answers she gets reflect her own courage and compassion. The premiere, with Christine Jorgensen doing the honors, will benefit the United Nations Decade for Women, 1975-85.

Saturday's offering is West German film maker Margarethe Von Trotta's "Sisters; or the Balance of Happiness" (1979), an exquisitely nuanced study of a repressed, driven career woman (Jutta Lampe), the very model of rigid Prussian character, whose love for her sister proves destructive. Playing with it is Tonia Marketaki's lusty, passionate "The Price of Love" (1984), set in turn-of-the century Corfu and depicting the seduction of an impoverished young woman (Anny Loulou) by a handsome wastrel (Stratas Tsopanellis) and her growing determination to take charge of her own destiny.

Sunday brings Ariane Mnouchkine's glorious 150-minute "1789." Leave it to Mnouchkine, whose celebrated Theatre du Soleil was one of the highlights of the Olympics Arts Festival, to breathe life into the filmed play. As her pageant of the French Revolution in all its folly and chaos, bravery and bloodshed, unfolds on various stages before a full audience, Mnouchkine follows her actors from the dressing room to the footlights, allowing us to see a character coming alive before our eyes.

Now that the Nuart's "Israeli Film Festival" will have reached its final program Thursday, it's possible to state that the six films that comprised it suggest strongly that Israel's cinema has come of age, offering work of singular depth and personality.

The concluding double feature is a pair of highly challenging films made by Yehuda Judd Ne'eman, head of Tel Aviv University's film department. Set in a boot camp during basic training, "Paratroopers" (1976) has a certain universality, but like Robert Altman's "Streamers," it has specific moral implications for its own country. A hapless misfit (Moni Moshonov) in the company is driven to self-destruction, remorselessly exemplifying Darwin's survival-of-the-fittest theory. Through Moshonov's predicament and its impact on his tough young commander (Gidi Gov), "Paratroopers" begins quietly to address the thorny question of the role of the military in any nation--and Israel in particular.

Gov, who has a forcefulness that belies his youth, also stars in "Fellow Travellers" (1983), which in the form of a political thriller probes the predicament of Israelis and Arabs dedicated to the struggle for peaceful coexistence. But as Gov tries to help a friend, a Palestinian Arab professor, in his attempt to establish a Palestinian university in Tel Aviv, he inevitably becomes a target for both Palestinian terrorists and the Israeli secret police.

Following the Friday premiere of "Queen Kelly," the County Museum of Art's "Films of Erich von Stroheim" series continues Saturday at 8 p.m. with "Blind Husbands" (1919), Von Stroheim's first film as a director--and his last that would be free of front-office intervention.

With a subtlety and irony scarcely typical of Hollywood at that time, Von Stroheim depicts a tragic confrontation between European sophistication and American naivete. A middle-aged, self-absorbed surgeon (Sam de Grasse) neglects his young wife (Francilla Billington) when he takes her to a village in the Italian Alps where he plans to ski with his old friend, a mountain guide (Gibson Gowland, later the star of "Greed"). (The mountain-climbing sequences, shot at Idyllwild and surely among the earliest of their kind, are still spectacular.)

There's a revival Wednesday at the Vista of Kenji Fukasakus' "Black Lizard," a bizarre yet poignant work of camp pathos. Female impersonator Akihiro Maruyama stars as the proprietress of a private nightclub (lined with blow-ups of Aubrey Beardsley's drawings for Oscar Wilde's "Salome") and as a jewel thief nonpareil--and mistress of an island grotto museum featuring human statues (!) One of them is muscular novelist Yukio Mishimawho was soon to commit hara-kiri.

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