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Arousing Interest

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sex, but with an artsy flavor, is the latest Orange County film focus as the Visualizing Eros series opens tonight at UC Irvine. It gets off to a bold start at 7:30 p.m. with Nagisa Oshima’s “In the Realm of the Senses” (1976) at UCI’s Film and Video Center, Humanities Instructional Building, Room 100 (Bridge Road, near Pereira Drive). $4-$6. (949) 824-7418.

The film pulls the viewer into a raw realm as a young woman begins a consuming affair with her boss. They can’t keep their hands (or anything else) off each other as Oshima’s frank, probing camera follows them from room to room, letting the viewer settle into a physical obsession that eventually veers out of control.

There’s much nudity and little subtlety when it comes to the couple’s sometimes tender, sometimes brutal lovemaking, which got Oshima in trouble after the movie was released. But when some called “In the Realm of the Senses” obscene, the director replied: “Obscenity exists only in the minds of the police and public prosecutors who control it.” He went on to explain that the film is an honest depiction of passion, however dangerous it can become.

The movie is even more surprising when you consider that it was based on actual events. In 1936, a woman named Abe Sada was tried for murder after she was found wandering the streets of Tokyo, carrying the severed penis of her lover.

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Screening with “In the Realm of the Senses” is Tran T. Kim-trang’s “Kore” (1994), which opens with two blindfolded women making love. Series organizers describe the film as a “provocative exploration of desire, empowerment, sexuality and AIDS/HIV.”

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Elsewhere in Orange County:

French filmmaker and novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet will present his latest movie, “Un Bruit Qui Rend Fou (A Noise That Drives You Crazy)” at Chapman University on Tuesday at 3 p.m. in the Argyros Forum, Room 308 (333 N. Glassell St., Orange). Robbe-Grillet will speak after the screening at 8 p.m. in the Chapman Auditorium. $5 for both the screening and speech (titled “The New Novel and the New Autobiography”). (714) 997-6812.

“Un Bruit Qui Rend Fou” has been shown in the United States only once, when it was part of the San Diego Film Festival earlier this year, said Martin Nakell, a Chapman professor of English and comparative literature. Although Nakell has not seen the movie, he said it should be “highly imagistic,” much like Robbe-Grillet’s other films, including “La Belle Captive” and “Last Year at Marienbad.”

The Black on Black: Recent Black Independent Cinema series continues at Chapman tonight at 7:30 p.m. with “Friday” (1995). The Argyros Forum, Room 308. Free. (714) 997-6765.

Gary Gray’s “Friday” stars Ice Cube and Chris Tucker as a pair of South-Central homeboys who owe big money to the nastiest thug in the ‘hood. The movie follows them as the 24-hour deadline gets closer and the jokes pile on. A Times critic wrote that “there’s no plot really, just a series of lowdown comedy sketches . . . if you don’t like one sketch you may like the next.”

The Jewish Film Festival closes Sunday at 9:30 a.m. with Moshe Mizrahi’s “Women” (1996). The AMC MainPlace theater in the MainPlace/Santa Ana Mall. $20 (includes breakfast). (714) 654-2720.

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“Women” tells the story of a Sephardic rabbi and his devoted wife as he takes a second, younger wife so she can bear him a son. Times staff writer Kevin Thomas said the film “captures a religious way of life in all its traditions and rituals and is one of Mizrahi and [collaborator] Michal Bat-Adam’s finest efforts.”

Speaking of finest efforts, Views of Merchant-Ivory, a retrospective of the work by the team of Ismail Merchant (producer), James Ivory (director) and, frequently, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (writer), continues at the Port Theatre (2905 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar). $4.50-$7 (each film). (949) 673-6260.

The schedule: tonight, “Heat and Dust” (1983) and “Shakespeare Wallah” (1965); Friday-Saturday, “Maurice” (1987) and “Quartet” (1981); Sunday-Monday, “The Bostonians” (1984) and “The Europeans” (1979); Tuesday-Wednesday: “Roseland” (1977) and “Slaves of New York” (1989); and May 7, “The Householder” (1963) and “In Custody” (1993).

Fernando Solanas’ “Tangos: The Exile of Gardel” (1987) will be screened Friday, 7 and 9 p.m., by the UC Irvine Film Society at the UCI Student Center, Crystal Cove Auditorium, near Pereira Drive and West Peltason Road. $2.50-$4.50. (949) 824-5588.

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“Tangos” brings together a group of Argentine writers, directors, musicians, dancers and actresses as they rehearse a show inspired by legendary singer Carlos Gardel. The linking thread in this film with political overtones is that all of them, including Solanas, were exiled from their homeland after the 1976 Argentine military coup.

Also at UCI is the continuing Mexican Cinema of the ‘90s series in the campus’ Film and Video Center, 100 Humanities Instructional Building (Bridge Road, near Pereira Drive). $4-$6 (each evening). (714) 824-7418.

Hugo Rodriguez’s “En media de la nada (In the Middle of Nowhere)” (1993) centers on three criminals who invade a home in northern Mexico and take a family hostage. It will screen Saturday at 7 p.m. along with J.F. Urrush’s 27-minute short “Tepu.”

On Sunday at 7 p.m., Juan Pablo Villasenor’s “Por si no te vuelvo a ver (If I Never See You Again)” will be shown. The film, in its California premiere, follows five senior citizens as they leave a nursing home in Mexico and form a musical quintet.

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Saddleback College’s International Film Festival closes Friday with Italian director Gianni Amelio’s “Lamerica” (1996) at 7 p.m. in the Science/Math building, Room 313 (28000 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo). Free. (714) 582-4788.

The film, which won several European awards, looks at the political and cultural reshaping of some European countries following the collapse of communism. Times movie critic Kenneth Turan said, “A profound emotional experience, ‘Lamerica’s’ always-human story touches delicately but tellingly on questions of personal and national identity, on the immigrant’s desire to better himself elsewhere and the stranger’s parallel passion to return home.”

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In L.A. and beyond:

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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. (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 cycle of life. (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.”

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.

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