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Stunning Satire Launches Pan-African Fest : ‘Terrorism and Bar-B-Que’ is a brilliantly sustained Capraesque satire on the breakdown of modern government.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Economic realities have forced the second edition of the Pan-African Film Festival, opening Thursday at the Sunset 5, to cut back from one week to four days. But a reduction in quantity may possibly have improved the overall level of the programming.

Among the films available for preview are several that are very good and a couple that are out-and-out terrific.

The most impressive is Egypt’s “Terrorism and Bar-B-Que"--that should be “Shishkebab” instead of “Bar-B-Que” but no matter. Written by Wallid Hamed and directed by Sherif Araka, it is a brilliantly sustained Capraesque satire on the breakdown of modern government that moves effortlessly from broad comedy to deadly serious drama to a finish far more satisfying than the one Capra himself worked out for his somewhat similar “Meet John Doe.”

Reminiscent of Nino Manfredi, Italy’s master portrayer of beleaguered, middle-aged Everyman, Adel Emam stars as a low-level civil servant who enters a bureaucratic nightmare when he goes to an immense administration building in downtown Cairo to get his two children transferred to a school nearer home.

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After repeated visits he finally loses his cool, causing a sublimely rude and indifferent pencil-pusher to call for security officers to eject him from the building. A scuffle ensues, with a rifle accidentally discharging and landing in Emam’s hands. The police swiftly assume that a terrorist has opened fire and taken hostages.

In the ensuing, increasingly tense situation that develops, the filmmakers air just about every ill that plagues modern industrialized society, leaving you to realize that “Terrorism and Bar-B-Que” (screening opening night at 8:30) could just as easily be set in Los Angeles.

Euzhan Palcy, the Martinique-born maker of “Sugar Cane Alley” and “A Dry White Season,” will be on hand to present her latest film, “Simeon” (screening opening night at 8:25 and again on Sunday at 10 a.m.), surely one of the sunniest and most charming ghost stories ever told.

Set in a West Indian village, it stars Jean-Claude Duverger, a Louis Gossett Jr. look-alike, in the title role as the local wise man, a musician who dies in a comical manner, just as he is developing, with his younger disciple Isidore (Jacob Desvarieux), a new form of popular Antilles music. Never fear: Simeon returns in spectral form to lend assistance.

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Palcy’s light-hearted tale, which takes Isidore all the way to Paris in the quest for stardom, embraces many irresistible numbers performed by Kassav, said to be the leading exponent of zouk , an international style of Caribbean dance music that recalls both reggae and Afro-Cuban music. Desvarieux is a member of Kassav, as are several other of the film’s actors.

The supernatural also figures in Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s fresh and original “Quartier Mozart” (screening Sunday at 4:30 p.m.), a skewering of machismo, African-style, that draws motifs from Cameroonian folklore. The film takes its title from a working-class neighborhood in Yaounde, Cameroon, and the key figure is the community’s police chief, a petty tyrant (Jimmy Biyong) who causes an uproar in his own household when he brings home a second wife and expects his wife and two children to accept her unquestioningly.

This situation is further complicated, most delightfully, when a sorceress causes the spirit of a young woman to enter the body of a handsome newcomer (Serge Amougou) so that she’ll get a unique perspective on male chauvinism. Bekolo hasn’t much of a sense of style or pace but is a witty and beguiling storyteller anyway.

Also noteworthy are “Ashakara” (Saturday at 6:25 p.m.), a taut political thriller set in Burkina-Faso and involving the exploitation of an ancient herbal medicine found effective in killing a deadly virus, and “Wheels and Deals” (Friday at 8:30 p.m.), a brisk, gritty tale of stinging political and social implications involving a gang of Soweto car thieves.

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On opening night, a reception will be hosted by Rosalind Cash and Alfre Woodard. On Sunday, there will be a program of children’s films from 10 a.m. to noon, and a forum on Pan-African music and the cinema from 1-3 p.m. in the Salvatori Room of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Information: (213) 896-8221.


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