Peter Wollen Films Featured at Melnitz

Times Staff Writer

“The Films of Peter Wollen,” composed of four films to be presented by the UCLA Film and Television Archive over the next three Thursdays, commences Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in Melnitz Theater with “Friendship’s Death” (1987).

Wollen, a British film theoretician and experimental film maker, will be present. The witty and provocative “Friendship’s Death” is in essence a two-character chamber drama, yet it avoids the stagy. Tilda Swinton plays an elegant extraterrestrial on a mission of peace to MIT who inadvertently winds up in Amman, Jordan, during “Black September” in 1970 where she encounters a likable, veteran journalist (Bill Paterson, warmly remembered from Bill Forsyth’s “Comfort and Joy”). This deft anti-war parable concludes with a remarkable coda, as challenging and enigmatic as the conclusion of Antonioni’s “The Passenger,” which Wollen wrote with Mark Peploe and Antonioni.

The archive’s second weekend of films by Finland’s Kaurismaki brothers is as enjoyable as the first, with the exception of one film. The Kaurismakis are fresh and vital, and their work is as deserving of recognition and exposure as that of the best European film makers. The series continues Saturday at 7:30 at Melnitz Theater with Aki Kaurismaki’s “Calamari Union” (1985) and Mika Kaurismaki’s “Helsinki Napoli All Night Long” (1987)--a mediocre English-language comedy you can well afford to skip.

There’s a highly developed sense of the absurd, expressed in deadpan humor, that characterizes the work of both brothers. Both are tellers of shaggy dog stories that capture a sense of aimlessness in life, and of the two, Aki is especially spare and rigorous in his style. Aki’s “Calamari Union” is as droll as it is demanding. In the heart of working-class Helsinki, 17 men, seemingly ranging in age from the late 20s to the late 30s, all named Frank and all wearing dark glasses, meet and agree that no matter what, they’re determined to make it to the suburb of Eira. Immediately, we’re plunged into a nightmarish fantasy in which the Franks, despite their most fervent efforts, never get anywhere, seemingly trapped in an unending series of calamitous incidents. Aki’s humor is very-- very --dry, and the film emerges as social commentary at its most subtle.


Mika’s lovely 1980 “The Liar” (Sunday at 7:30) stars Aki--then 23--as a coltish Jean-Pierre Leaud-like young intellectual, drifting through a Helsinki summer and pursuing romance. “The Liar” is a film of much charm and style and reflects strongly the influence of France’s New Wave, especially Godard. “The Liar” is followed by Aki’s “Shadows in Paradise” (1987), one of the strongest films in the series. As in “Calamari Union” Aki captures a Helsinki that’s cold and impersonal as he charts a highly tentative romance between a garbage collector (Matti Pellonpaa) and a supermarket cashier (Kati Outinen), two loners buffeted about by the harshness of working-class life. These two actors, both unglamorous and generally sullen, make these two absolutely real; Aki can discover humor in his couple, but it’s never at their expense. “Shadows in Paradise” makes telling use of American--or American-influenced--pop music, jazz and blues, an Aki trademark. (213) 206-FILM, 206-8013.

Among the films screening in USC’s Norris Theater during the opening weekend of “The Contemporary Art Scene in Austria” is Christian Berger’s starkly beautiful “Raffl” (1984), screening Sunday at 8:45. Instead of another retelling of the martyrdom of Andreas Hofer, a leader in the resistance against the French occupation of the Austrian Tyrol in 1810, Berger concentrates on Hofer’s uneasy betrayer, debt-ridden farmer Franz Raffl. Terse and ironic, with strikingly composed images and an imaginative use of natural sounds, “Raffl” is set against harsh, wintry landscapes as it expresses the inner conflicts of the stoic Raffl (Lois Weinberger, in a remarkable interior performance) who emerges more a victim than a Judas. “The Contemporary Art Scene in Austria,” which includes multimedia presentations, seminars and the American premiere of Wolfgang Bauer’s black comedy, “A Wonderful Morning in the Barber Shop.” Information: (213) 743-8066 or 444-9310.