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Two Colorful Portraits From Les Blank

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“Two Films by Les Blank” (Monica 4-Plex Friday for a regular run) offers a pair of winners from our premiere chronicler of Americana. Blank celebrates the infectious artistry of legendary Afro-Cuban drummer Francesco Aguabella in the 35-minute “Sworn to the Drum,” revealing that Aguabella balances his professional career with participating regularly in Afro-Cuban religious rituals. In “The Maestro: King of the Cowboy Artists” (54 minutes) Blank introduces us to colorful, multitalented Gerry Gaxiola, seventh-generation San Luis Obispan, eclectic and distinctive painter, cowboy songwriter-performer and his own best model for his fanciful rhinestone cowboy outfits. (310) 394-9741.

The American Cinematheque’s “Athens-in-Los Angeles Film Festival,” composed of 11 major films, takes place Friday through Nov. 9 at the Sunset 5. Pantelis Voulgaris’ 1972 “The Engagement of Anna” (Friday at 3 p.m.; Sunday at 1 p.m.) is a supremely subtle, deceptively sunny film about how a well-off Athens family concludes that it’s time to arrange a marriage for the demure, dutiful young woman (Anna Vayena) who has faultlessly served its elderly matriarch for 10 years. What seems such a gentle, loving study of a family--almost Renoiresque in its bemused compassion--gradually and impalpably turns into a devastating commentary on oppressiveness and hypocrisy of the class system. Costas Perris’ 1983 “Rembetiko” (Friday at 9:30 p.m., Nov. 8 at 6:30 p.m.), a highly evocative picture, rich in sound and color, at once political and biographical, a study of a great singer of rembetiko music of protest and lament.

Nikos Papatakis’ 1985 “The Photograph” (Saturday at 6:30 p.m.; Nov. 9 at 6:30 p.m.) is bleak yet captivating, an indictment of the Greek junta in the form of a parable on corrupt power in which a young man (Christos Sangas), hounded by his dead father’s communist past, takes refuge with a kindly, lonely older cousin (Aris Retsos) in Paris only to be exploited cruelly by him. Theo Angelopoulos’ 1988 “Landscape in the Mist” (Saturday at 9:30 p.m.) is one of the great filmmaker’s finest, a poetic odyssey with profound implications of loss in which two children (Tania Palailogou, Michalis Zeke) set off in search of a father who doesn’t actually exist. George Katakouzinos’ unforgettable 1982 “Angel” (Sunday at 9:30 p.m.; Nov. 8 at 1:30 p.m.), based on a true story, suggests that tragedy is embedded in the Greek soul as a diffident young Athens jeweler’s assistant is turned into a transvestite hooker by a muscular, hairy-chested sailor; what ensues could be written by Euripides. For full schedule: (213) 466-FILM.

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The UCLA Film Archives’ “Hungarian Rhapsodies,” a 22-film series of recent Hungarian films, commences Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with “Sweet Emma, Dear Bobe” (1992), written and directed by Istvan Szabo, best known for his Oscar-winning “Mephisto.” Emma (Johanna Ter Steege) and Bobe (Eriko Borcsok) for seven years have shared a room in a vast, stark teachers’ dormitory. Life has never been easy for them, but the changes sweeping over Hungary threaten to overtake them, signaled by an order that abruptly changes them from teachers of Russian to teachers of English. The more outspoken Emma is caught up in a dead-end romance with the school’s married director; Bobe drifts from affair to affair with foreigners. Shot in a harsh black-and-white, this is an increasingly harrowing film, yet another in a current cycle of films despairing of life in present-day Hungary. The series includes retrospectives of directors Gyula Gazdag and Bela Tarr, whose 9 1/2-hour epic of village life, “Satango” screens Sunday from 1:30 to 10:40 p.m. (310) 206-FILM.

Ebrahim Hatami-Kia’s “From Karkeh to Rhine” (Monica 4-Plex Friday for an open run), the first German-Iranian co-production, forcefully makes its point: whoever in the West supplied Saddam Hussein with chemical warfare becomes his accomplice. Ali Dehkordi stars as a young Iran-Iraq War veteran, exposed to “mustard gas,” who has come to Cologne for successful eye surgery to regain his sight and to have a reunion with his sister (Homa Roosta), long a German resident, only to discover that chemical bombs had not only impaired his vision severely but also has infected him with leukemia. This is a somber, sensitive film of much impact and wide implications.


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