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Speaking Their Minds

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The American Cinematheque’s Alternative Screen has come up with a lively program tonight at 7:30 at Raleigh Studios with Carrie Ansell’s inspired and outrageous “Flushed,” which will be preceded by four episodes of Lela Lee’s scabrously funny “Angry Little Asian Girl.”

When it comes to animation, Lee is a minimalist, using simple Magic Marker drawings, but boy does she have plenty to say. Her diminutive grade-school-age heroine unleashes a torrent of foul language whenever she’s offended--and this happens a lot--by any behavior that strikes her as racist or discriminatory (or male chauvinist). Her unleashed rage is at once hilarious--so much tough talk from such a little girl--and therapeutic: The treatment she rightly objects to deserves the liberating verbal blowtorch she gives it. Lee leaves you suspecting that Lee’s feisty heroine is saying out loud what a lot of Asian Americans, young and old, male and female, are often feeling but not saying.

“Flushed” is a classic instance of a filmmaker hitting upon a simple, potent idea and running with it. “Flushed” takes place entirely within the restrooms in a downtown Gen X-er New York club on a very busy night; it is so cleverly sustained that it could almost be mistaken for a documentary.

This 81-minute no-budgeter is a real test for a first-time filmmaker in several aspects. You know that such a film is going to be steeped in blunt talk about genitalia, bodily functions and sex, and Ansell manages to vary sufficiently the things men and women will say and do when they’re among their own sex to sustain interest and invite affectionate rather than derisive laughter. (Ansell recognizes that everyone is different even if she or he says much of what others say.)

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She manages to find humor in the vanities, vulnerabilities and quirks in about 100 different individuals. This is no small achievement at a time when bathroom scenes in mainstream movies are so often tasteless and gratuitous and when many of us feel uncomfortable with a great deal of what is discussed in this picture. Ansell has the kind of easy, liberating, compassionate humor that invites you to laugh at yourself. (213) 466-FILM.

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The Los Angeles County Museum of Art will present this weekend Theo Angelopoulos’ 1995 “Ulysses’ Gaze” (Friday at 7:30 p.m.) and “The Travelling Players” (Saturday at 7:30 p.m.). Both are shimmering, mystical journeys involving the severe dislocations of war, betrayal and revolution and in its aftermath, the individual’s quest for identity and meaning.

The title of the monumental, magnificent 1995 “Ulysses’ Gaze” refers to the master Greek filmmaker’s longing for a more innocent vision. This longing, in turn, gives way to his larger concern with the tragic history of the Balkans, the ongoing chaos in the former Yugoslavia, in particular. His nearly three-hour epic is archetypal Angelopoulos: great, stunning vistas unfolding at a stately pace. Angelopoulos is a modern Homer: Virtually all his films are odysseys multilayered in meaning. As such, they are totally demanding and can be enthralling if you’re able to--and prepared to--give yourself over to them totally.

Harvey Keitel plays a Greek-born American filmmaker known only as A. who returns after a 35-year absence to his native country for a presentation of his newest film. We are told that the film is extremely controversial for its religious themes--think of Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ,” which is based on Niko Kazantzakis’ novel--and this provokes a demonstration in his hometown.

Amid the uproar, A. is actually much more concerned with tracking down three unaccounted-for reels of film taken by the Manakia brothers, real-life figures who, beginning early in the century and for some 60 years, recorded life throughout the Balkans without regard to national borders or ethnic politics and turmoil. We also learn that the brothers operated a theater in Monastir (now Bitolj) until it was destroyed in 1939.

A. becomes increasingly obsessed with the need to track down those reels as a way of revitalizing himself, and his search takes him all over the Balkans, climaxing in strife-torn Sarajevo itself. A.'s odyssey becomes for Angelopoulos, whose principal writer for years has been Italy’s distinguished Tonino Guerra, an expression of his love for the cinema and a contemplation of the role of the artist in times of war. It also demonstrates the power of art as an act of defiance in the face of danger and devastation.

Verging on the surreal, “Ulysses’ Gaze” creates its own universe in which loss, suffering and longing are expressed with the utmost dazzling beauty and made more stirring with the accompaniment of Eleni Karaindrou’s melancholy score.

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The even more monumental 231-minute 1975 “The Travelling Players” is a stunning account of a theatrical company whose tour of the countryside becomes a journey through Greek history from the Metaxas dictatorship of 1939 to the reestablishment of the right-wing Papagos government of 1952. “The Travelling Players,” arguably Angelopoulos’ finest achievement, enjoyed a substantial local run in 1990 but has rarely been seen since. (213) 857-6010.

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Michael Caulfield’s 40-minute “Africa’s Elephant Kingdom,” which opens Friday at the California Science Center Imax Theater in Exposition Park, is a straightforward account of an elephant family fleeing drought across a vast parched African plain. Although this family makes it alive, members of other families do not, which makes for a viewing experience parents may feel is too intense for very young children. There are the usual magnificent vistas to fill the immense Imax screen and the usual evocation of the eternal cycle of life. At the heart of the film is its touching depiction of how elephants pull together and care for each other, especially in the face of adversity. (213) 744-2014.

Note: The Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., launches tonight at 7:30 “Imagining Israel: American Visions,” with a screening at the co-sponsoring Museum of Television & Radio, 469 Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, of “A Woman Called Golda.” (See Itinerary, Page 7.)

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The remainder of the series, which will examine Hollywood’s evolving depiction of Israel over the past half-century, will be presented at the Skirball Cultural Center. It continues on May 5 at 7:30 p.m. with “Sword in the Desert” (1949), starring Dana Andrews as a cynical freighter captain who helps smuggle Jewish refugees into Palestine and becomes drawn into the struggles between the British forces of occupation and the fighters for Jewish independence. For opening event only: (310) 786-1370. All others: (213) 660-8587.

French novelist and New Wave pioneer filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet will speak on the novel and autobiography Tuesday at 8 p.m. in Chapman Auditorium, Chapman University, 333 N. Glassell St., Orange. At 3 p.m. there will be a screening in Argyros Forum of Robbe-Grillet’s latest film, “A Noise That Drives You Crazy.” A Southern California appearance by Robbe-Grillet is a rare and major event for cineastes. Tickets: (714) 997-6812; information: (714) 997-6609.

Note: Gregory Razzin’s “Blue Skies Are a Lie,” a powerful drama about a reclusive once-renowned photojournalist with doomsday visions (Keith Brunsmann) and his mail carrier (Julie Moses), has been held over for weekend 11 a.m. screenings at the Sunset 5. (213) 848-3500.


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