New films by such masters as Ermanno Olmi and Jacques Rivette plus impressive directorial debuts from Max Von Sydow and composer Michel Legrand highlight the sixth American Film Institute's European Community Festival, which runs Friday through June 29 at the Fine Arts in Beverly Hills. As before, the overall quality level is higher than that of the AFI's FilmFest, and at a time when markedly fewer foreign films are released, the EuroFest may be your one chance to see even the best of these offerings.
Opening the festival at 6:45 p.m. is Olmi's "The Legend of the Holy Drinker," a droll, gentle fable of beguiling beauty and religious mysticism starring Rutger Hauer. He plays an alcoholic vagrant with a tragic secret who receives an unexpected blessing, yet each time he attempts to repay it he encounters unexpected obstacles.
If there's no good reason beyond the obvious commercial one for this film to be in English--the setting is Paris, and Hauer plays a one-time coal miner from Silesia--at least the dialogue is easy and colloquial. Hauer has a low-key power, Paris never looked so enticingly sleazy and romantic and "The Legend of the Holy Drinker," adapted from the Joseph Roth novel, is a winner--a literal one having won the Italian Oscar equivalent of Best Film, Direction and Cinematography. (It screens again on Saturday at 12 noon).
Rivette's "The Gang of Four" (Saturday at 3, Sunday at 2) is his usual fiercely demanding interplay of art and life as a group of young acting students become caught up in the mystery and danger engulfing a former colleague and housemate. "The Gang of Four" on the one hand recalls Rivette's "Paris nous appartient" in its evocation of paranoia and "L'Amour fou" on the other, with the students finding themselves playing roles in life as well as on the stage. As long (160 minutes) and grueling as it is, "The Gang of Four" is worth the effort, and Rivette's young actresses lighten the journey with their loveliness, talent and individuality. The caring, detailed delineation of these young people coping with everyday life while ardently pursuing their dreams evokes both humor and compassion. Cast as the girls' exacting teacher is the exquisite Bulle Ogier, one of Rivette's favorite actresses.
With the pure enchantment of "Katinka" (Saturday at 7), Max Von Sydow proves to be as skilled a director as he is an actor. This irresistible period piece, adapted from a novel by Herman Bang and set in rural turn-of-the-century Norway, is a beautifully told story of the love that develops between a young stationmaster's wife (Tammi Ost) and the handsome new manager of the largest estate in the area (Kurt Ravn). The past comes vividly alive in Von Sydow's loving observation of both daily life and hearty holiday celebrations. There's something of Renoir and, not surprisingly, much of Ingmar Bergman in this film, and for all the emotions Ost and Ravn stir in us over their predicament, they above all earn our respect for their old-fashioned sense of honor and responsibility, especially in regard to Ost's good-natured husband (Ole Ernest).
Spanish film maker Antonio del Real's leisurely "The River That Was" (Sunday at 6 p.m.) follows a group of loggers, headed by Alfredo Landa (star of "The Holy Innocents") as they guide thousands of logs down the River Tajo from Paralejos de las Truchas to Aranjuez. The time is 1946, and this will be the last such journey before trucks are to start transporting the logs. A war-weary Irishman of partial Spanish descent (a reflective Tony Peck) joins the loggers, whom he discovers to be a hearty, honorable band of free spirits at odds with a corrupt, fascist society. At times the film, for all its pastoral beauty, feels overly long and tedious, yet there's no denying that its slow pace matches the tempo of a way of life it depicts with such concern.
Also screening is "The Tall Guy" (Friday at 9:10), which stars Jeff Goldblum as an American actor in London and which was unavailable for preview, and two disappointments, "Paperback Woman" (Saturday at 9, Sunday at noon) and "The Woman Who Dreamed" (Sunday at 8:30). More about EuroFest films, including the Michel Legrand film, in next week's Special Screenings. For further information: (213) 856-7707, 652-1330.