The AFI Film Fest is presenting many of its best films during its opening weekend at the Monica 4-Plex and the Sunset 5, where it runs Friday through Nov. 2.
"J-LG by J-LG: December Self-Portrait" (Monica, Friday, 1:50 and 6:50 p.m.) is an hourlong meditation on art, life and himself by the New Wave master Jean-Luc Godard, who, approaching 65, is ever-evolving, full of his usual aphorisms and pronouncements yet concludes that his primary task is to be a man. A beautiful film, shot in Godard's spacious, austere Lake Geneva apartment-office. "Culture is rules, the exception is art," says Godard, who worries about the death of the exception. (This weekend "J-LG by J-LG" will begin screening Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m. at the Sunset 5.)
In "A Light Sensitive Study" (Monica, Friday, 2:10 and 7:10 p.m.) a young photographer's losing battle to hold her personal and professional life together becomes a metaphor for the relentless harshness of life in Hungary's free-market economy in Pal Erdoss' bleak, intimate and beautifully articulated film. What's especially disturbing for American audiences is its depiction of the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots. Erika Ozsda stars.
No standard film biography could hope to compete with the brilliance of insight and the sheer emotional impact of Mark Rappaport's "From the Journals of Jean Seberg" (Monica, Friday at 2 and 7 p.m.; Sunset, Oct. 24, 2 and 7 p.m.), which blurs the line between fiction and biography. As Rappaport takes us through the offbeat, truncated career of the ill-fated actress, plucked from Iowa obscurity by Otto Preminger to star in his "Saint Joan," Mary Beth Hurt--playing Seberg as if she could talk to us from beyond the grave--speaks of a life characterized by a few exhilarating highs and many terrible lows. Rappaport suggests powerfully that abuse so many women are shown receiving on the screen reinforces their fates off screen.
"Sharaku" (Monica, Sunday, 1:50 and 6:50 p.m.; Sunset, Oct. 25, 4:30 and 9:10 p.m.) is yet another of Masahiro Shinoda's superb, stylized period films, imagining persuasively the precarious existence of an innovative, late 18th-Century woodblock artist (Hiroyuki Sanada). A gorgeous evocation of life in the life of the Yoshiwara, old Edo's red-light district, and of the burgeoning Kabuki theater, it pinpoints the emergence of a new, pleasure-seeking merchant class that drew the repressive ire of the Shogunate, threatened by such freedom of expression.
With "Orson Welles: The One Man Band" (Monica, Sunday, 2:10 and 7:10 p.m.) director Vassili Silovic and Oja Kodar, Welles' longtime muse, create a remarkable portrait of Welles in his final decades. Drawing upon Kodar's treasure trove of Welles' footage, the filmmakers present us with a Welles constantly frustrated but never giving up. We get tantalizing glimpses of projects never realized or completed, most notably a vignette from "The Merchant of Venice" that suggests that it could have been among Welles' greatest works. Inevitably poignant but also bracing and amusing, a testament to Welles' unflagging bravery as an artist and a man, it is a festival highlight.
"Fresh Bait" (Monica, Sunday, 4:20 and 9 p.m.), another festival high point, is Bertrand Tavernier's coolly detached observation of several aimless, disaffected young Parisians who murder brutally in the pursuit of their dream of going to America and getting rich. It's a commentary on the seductiveness of American media and materialism and the deadening of emotions and morality from a contemporary master, who drew from an actual incident.
"Anonymous Love Letter" (Monica, Sunday, 4:40 and 9:20 p.m.) is a contemporary fable, pointing up an ugly generation gap, in which an unhappy, inconsiderate young woman (Thiara Scanda), tired of her elderly neighbor's complaints about her loud parties, starts bombarding him with phony letters from an anonymous lover, whom the old man (Fernando Torre Lapham) mistakes for a well-worn hooker (Luisa Huertas). It's a film of accumulative, devastating power, beautifully acted, from Mexico's Carlos Carrera.
"Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatjana" (Sunset 5, Sunday, 4:30 and 9:20 p.m.) is a droll vignette (65 minutes) from Finland's sly, irrepressible Aki Kaurismaki in which a pair of dim would-be wise guys on a motor trip cross paths with two women far wiser and mature than they are. Set in the '60s and suffused in bemused nostalgia. For full schedule and tickets: (213) 466-1767.