Following are The Times' recommendations for today's schedule of the American Film Institute International Film Festival, with commentary by the film-reviewing staff. All screenings, except where noted, are at Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica. Information: (213) 466-1767.
"THE LAST METRO"(France, 1981; Francois Truffaut; 1:45 and 6:50 p.m.). With this exquisite 1980 film--an affectionate tribute to the theater, at once buoyant, easy yet profound--Truffaut fulfilled three long-cherished dreams: "To take the camera backstage, to evoke the Occupation and to give Catherine Deneuve the role of a responsible woman." Deneuve indeed has a formidable task: to keep her Paris theater running despite the Nazis. With Gerard Depardieu . . . One of Truffaut's finest. (Kevin Thomas) (Michael Wilmington disagrees: "A great potential theme, but the execution seems frustratingly spare--as if Jean-Pierre Melville were doing a subject fit only for Renoir or Ophuls.")
"NUTS IN MAY"(Great Britain, 1973; Mike Leigh; 4:15 and 9:30 p.m.). Leigh's highly popular BBC comedy has the daffy, deadpan wit of the fondly recalled Ealing satires of the early '50s, mixed with a new-style psychological acuity and socio-political irreverence. The protagonists are two well-meaning but hopelessly pretentious, or out-of-place, urban back-to-nature enthusiasts (Roger Sloman and Leigh's protean wife, Alison Steadman), whose good-natured bullying and obsessive purificationism turn a vacation camping expedition into a comic hell. Leigh and his cast's take on trendy blather is deadly; the movie makes you laugh and cringe by turns. (M. W.)
"NATURE'S REVENGE"(Sweden, 1984; Stefan Jarl; AFI Goodson, 9 p.m.) The havoc wreaked on nature--and man--by pesticides and artificial fertilizers is examined, with frightening lucidity, in Jarl's ecological documentary. His key images are the clouds of gas sprayed over beautiful landscapes, the muck spewed into the lakes by industrial plants and the apparent result: empty forests, befouled crops, cancerous sheep, dying birds and humans afflicted with a variety of deadly or disfiguring ailments. Like Rachel Carson in "Silent Spring," Jarl is both polemicist and poet. He gives us lyrical images of the land, animals and people; then shows, us, terrifyingly, what is happening to them. (M. W.)
"SOLITAIRE"(Canada; Francis Damberger; 1 and 6:15 p.m.) Set in a truck-stop cafe in a small Canadian town, where a drab, sullen proprietor passes her time playing solitaire and serving dinner every night to the local postman: there, two people whose lives have been on hold for a quarter of a century, until the man most important to them both returns . . . Damberger is sentimental and intensely theatrical, but he makes us care about his people, who are beautifully played by his actors. (K. T.)
"PAINTING THE TOWN"(United States; Andrew Behar; 1:15 and 6:30 p.m.). A frequently hilarious, sometimes unsettling, but finally gratifying documentary by Andrew Behar, about a 38-year-old cab driver and struggling painter, Richard Osterweil, whose hobby is gate-crashing at the highest levels of New York society. There are moments when the intensity of Osterweil's all-consuming vicariousness seems downright scary. (K. T.)
"CHEB"(Algeria; Rachid Bouchareb; 3:45 and 9 p.m.). The Algerian landscape--harsh, vast desert expanses with villages of stone scattered among them--is a striking presence in this modern love-on-the run story. In it, a spoiled, delinquent Parisian Algerian boy, deported and conscripted into the Army, flees through the desert with another exile, a recalcitrant girl. Along the way, Bouchareb gives us dazzling visuals and a troubling account, not always predictable, of the collision between old and new values. (M. W.)
Others: "The Swordsman in Double Flag Town" (China; He Ping; 1:30 and 6:45 p.m.) An unsubtitled, defective tape, only partially screened, was still enough to prove that this movie--a Chinese town-taming "Western" in the style of the Eastwood-Leone pictures--has real visual sweep and storytelling sense. It's probably worth a gamble. (M. W.) "Famine 33" (Ukraine; Oles Yanchuk; 3:30 and 8:45 p.m.) Unscreened: A microcosmic portrait of Stalin's brutal forced collectivization of the Ukraine during the '30s; winner of the 1991 Ukrainian Film Grand Prix. "The Long Winter" (Spain; Jaime Camino; 4 and 9:15 p.m.) The 1939 fall of Barcelona to Franco, seen by an aristocratic family divided by the war: so tritely told that, despite Vittorio Gassmann, Jean Rochefort and a surprise twist, it becomes boring. (K. T.) African American Experience (United States; AFI Goodson, 7 p.m.) Four variable shorts: a stylish recycling of the Hawks-Bogart "To Have and Have Not," and tales of jazz, alcoholism and back-country magic. (M. W.)