A Cruel Tale in 'Rat Catcher'

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Contemporary Documentary Series continues at UCLA Melnitz tonight at 8 with Andrzej Czarnecki's 22-minute "The Rat Catcher" (1986) and Frank Heiman's 55-minute "Paradise Camp" (1986).

The first is a creepy stunner, a close-up, deadpan look at Poland's only industrial rat exterminator at work, an ordinary-looking, heavy-set middle-aged man who takes justifiable pride in his work, which involves getting his prey to trust him. No doubt this man is invaluable, but Czarnecki disturbingly confronts us with the repelling yet clearly seductive and gratifying aspect of his work as a mass killer.

Since "The Rat Catcher" so easily functions as parable, it's tasteless to have paired it with a film in which humans, not rats, are the victims. "Paradise Camp" is the usual mix of interviews with Holocaust survivors and archival materials, but there's a difference. The camp in question is Theresienstadt, a quaint walled city in Czechoslovakia, which, in cruelly deceiving propaganda--including even a faked documentary--the Nazis passed off to the Swiss Red Cross as a paradise for Jews and typical of all concentration camps; survivors attest to the fact that it too was a hell on Earth.

The New Beverly Cinema is presenting on Wednesday and Thursday (with the recent and exquisite "Sorceress") a rare revival of Robert Bresson's "The Trial of Joan of Arc," a terse, 65-minute, documentary-style courtroom drama in which the heroine's speeches come verbatim from historic transcripts and which derives its impact from Bresson's dry detachment. Florence Carrez is the resilient Joan, who may weep in private, but who answers her inquisitors with an almost monotonous matter-of-factness.

Information: (213) 938-4038.

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