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The Revelations of ‘Three Bewildered People’

Times Staff Writer

Gregg Araki’s “Three Bewildered People in the Night” (at the Nuart on Wednesday and Thursday only) is astonishing on at least three counts: first, as an evocation of the stark impersonality of Los Angeles at night; second, as an incisively acted story of three intelligent young people thrashing about in an attempt to sort out their feelings about one another and themselves; and third, as a beautiful, stylish film, shot in a dark, gritty 16 millimeter, which, incredibly, cost only $5,000 to make.

In these circumstances talent doesn’t merely tell, it shouts. Alicia (Darcy Marta), David (Mark Howell) and Craig (John Lacques) are all involved in the local arts scene. They’re overcome with Angst at the realization that they have reached adulthood, ready or not; they are often self-absorbed, yet they have the wit to mock themselves and to care about each other. However, just as Alicia and Craig, who’ve been lovers for several months, are beginning to chafe in their relationship, Craig and David, who is gay, are beginning to be attracted to each other.

Marta, Howell and Lacques are gifted, selfless actors, and they and Araki allow us to see these three mature before our eyes. Few low-budget independent films have had such impact since John Cassavetes’ “Shadows” (1960). (213) 478-6379, 479-5269.

The second part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s Contemporary Documentary Series continues tonight at 8 at UCLA Melnitz with Bill Jersey and Jeffrey Friedman’s 58-minute “Faces of the Enemy” (1987) and Mike Hoover’s 73-minute “Afghanistan: The Secret War” (1987). The first is as dreadful as the second is outstanding.

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Why, one wonders, did “Faces of the Enemy” ever get chosen for this outstanding series? Its purpose is undeniably admirable: to get us to look at our enemies in a more humane way than the exaggerated manner in which they are depicted in the media, especially by political cartoonists. But its approach is appallingly superficial.

The film is mainly a series of interviews conducted by commentator Sam Keen, very self-important, with authors of recent books related to the subject and also with David L. Rice, a pale, bearded young man convicted of slaughtering a family of four because he had heard they were Communists (that they were not is beside the point). Keen actually says to the expressionless Rice: “I feel all your uncried tears.” Disturbingly, you sense that the principal interviewees, all of whom are white, middle-age American males, regard war as an inevitable phenomenon.

For “Afghanistan: The Secret War,” Mike Hoover made 18 trips to Afghanistan over a five-year period, spending a total of more than a year in the war zone with a group of the Afghan Moujahedeen and documenting their struggle against the Soviet invaders. This is a beautifully filmed, understated but heartfelt account of an incredibly courageous people, sustained by their Muslim faith in their attempt to fight back a superpower so ruthless as to make a special target of small children. In a sense everyone on view is a hero in the face of terrible suffering and hardship, but two men stand out: Dr. Shah Rukh Gran and Gen. Raheem Wardak, who are calm, resilient and endlessly resourceful leaders--and, helpfully for us, very fluent in English. This film makes clear not only what Afghanistan has had to endure but also why the rebels have succeeded in resisting the Soviets as effectively as they have. (213) 206-FILM, 206-8013.

The New Chinese Cinema series continues Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. only at the Nuart with another winner, Wu Tianming’s “Old Well” (1987). Writer Zheng Yi interweaves two stories to create a claustrophobic sense of the oppression of people straining at the chains of outmoded morality and technology. Zhang Yimou, the director of the stylish and richly sensual “Red Sorghum,” stars as Wangquan, a husky young man who lives in a remote mountain village where water has been scarce for as long as anyone can remember. The film curses the cruelty of arranged marriages just as it urges communities to pull together to solve their problems rather than hope that the central government will someday come to their rescue. “Old Well” is stirring and earthy, and it resists a didactic tone in its plea for self-determination both in personal and community life. Named best picture, and Yimou best actor at the 1987 Tokyo Film Festival.

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