'Documental' Explores Two Very Different Worlds

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Midnight Special Bookstore (1318 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica) presents Saturday its bimonthly "Documental," two different programs of recent films and videos. The 7 p.m. program concerns a changing India, and the 9 p.m. program observes the contemporary art scene, and both are outstanding.

Rishika Advani's warm yet succinct 27-minute "Bringing Up Deepak" introduces us to a bright, handsome boy, the son of Kalash, a live-in servant to a sophisticated middle-aged couple, Vicky and Ramesh Galal, residing in the city of Mumbai. Deepak, well-behaved and self-disciplined, has been raised by his grandmother in his native north India village, but Kalash, who misses her son, brings him to the city when relatives offer to take him in. When they renege, the childless Galals not only allow Kalash to bring him into their home but are soon so captivated by the boy that they offer to take custody of him and educate him. The heart of this perceptive and encouraging documentary is Kalash, who dared to leave an abusive husband and now must rise above maternal jealousy for the good of her son. Vicky and Kalash manage to work things out between them, but their sharing of Deepak is so advanced for class-conscious India that the boy faces discrimination until the Galals give him their name. None of the four has an easy time of it, but clearly Deepak has an infinitely brighter future than he would have had otherwise.

Israeli filmmakers Ayelet Menahemi and Eilona Ariel went to India to film "Doing Time, Doing Vipassana," where Dr. Kerin Bedi, India's dynamic first female inspector general of prisons, did not stop at conventional reforms of Delhi's once-notorious Tihar Central Prison. Following the suggestion of an assistant superintendent, Bedi introduced Vipassana to Tihar. The ancient form of Buddhist meditation was first tried out successfully in a Jaipur penal institution in 1975. Tihar held a 10-day course involving 1,000 inmates, the largest such event held in modern times. The impact has been so profound on the inmates' lives--and also those of their guards, who also participated--that Vipassana has spread to Taiwan and even the U.S.

Heilman-C's "Self-Portrait: Porno" documents a group of porn actors performing live at a New York art gallery. One young man accurately points out that American society remains so sexually oppressive that, were the setting not an art gallery, the actors would be regarded as engaged in "very seamy, sordid acts."

Ultimately, "Self-Portrait: Porno" (which does in fact have hard-core moments) seems tohave more to do with freedom of expression than with the creation of art.

Maya Koyo's "Loft District" offers an engaging and comprehensive survey of the art scene that flowered in Los Angeles' old downtown industrial district in the mid-'70s and, despite setbacks, now provides affordable work/living spaces to some 2,000 artists, many of them residing in such recycled complexes as Factory Place, the Brewery and the Santa Fe Art Colony. The Wallenboyd and Gorky's may be history, but it would seem the loft district is more securely established than you may have realized. Free admission. (310) 393-2923.

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The Laemmle Theaters' "Summer Series" continues Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. at the Sunset 5 (8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood) with Bob Swaim's "The Climb," a classic small boy-old man relationship movie that represents quite a departure for the American director of such stylish French films as "La Balance." The story is so familiar you may find your attention wandering, yet it is a sincere effort anchored by fine performances, most notably by John Hurt, David Strathairn and young Gregory Smith. The widowed Strathairn and his son (Smith) live in a blue-collar Baltimore suburb in 1959, which means that there are lots of neighboring World War II vets who have concluded that because Strathairn didn't serve in the war he must be one of those lily-livered conscientious objectors. This makes it tough on his kid, who gets crucial grandfatherly reinforcement from Hurt, a crusty itinerant construction worker who's dying of cancer. Auckland, New Zealand, passes fairly well for the Baltimore outskirts. "The Climb" also screens Aug. 7 and 8 at 11 a.m. at the Monica 4-Plex (1332 2nd St., Santa Monica). Sunset 5: (323) 848-3500; Monica 4-Plex: (310) 394-9741.

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The "Universal Studios Hitchcock Director Series" continues Friday at the American Cinematheque's Lloyd E. Rigler Theater at the Egyptian (6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood), offering through Monday an array of films by major filmmakers from around the world, who will appear with their films. Kinji Fukasaku, one of Japan's most durably audacious stylists, becomes the latest Japanese director to tackle "Chushingura," the timelessly popular legend of the 47 loyal ronin, the ultimate expression of Japanese honor and sacrifice, with his "Crest of Betrayal" (1994), which screens Friday at 7:30 p.m. Arturo Ripstein, Mexico's leading director, introduces his "Divine" (1998), which finds this former Luis Bun~uel assistant at his most confidently outrageous. A crumbling mission has become home to a sect led by the prophet Mother Dorita and her lover, a defrocked Spanish priest, Father Basilio, who believe that we can learn everything from biblical movies. The setting is one of tattered dime-store splendor, and Dorita and Basilio are played by icons of the Spanish-language cinema, Katy Jurado and Francisco Rabal, powerful actors who, with advancing age, have not exactly fought back at the ravages of time. At first it looks like Ripstein is heading for satire, but actually Dorita and Basilio are touching in their enduring love for each other.

There is a surprising innocence in the sect, which is threatened when the dying Dorita chooses as her successor a prostitute's young daughter, Tomasa (Edwarda Gurrola), who sees her role as to be both Madonna and whore. This exuberant yet oddly poignant mix of sex and religion, ignorance and intuition, gives way to a consideration of the power struggle among church, state and media in the governing of our lives.

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On Saturday and Sunday there will also be a five-film "Salute to Emerging Filmmakers." Among them is Tsai Ming-Liang's 1997 masterpiece, "The River." As in his "Vive l'Amour" Tsai takes us into an alienated contemporary Taipei to acquaint us with a trio of individuals. Here, they are so remote from each other that it takes awhile to realize that they are related--an adult son, mother and father who in fact share the same apartment.

At the beginning of the film, a movie director persuades the son, Xiao-kang (Lee Kang-sheng), who is part of a crowd of onlookers, to play a corpse floating in a polluted-looking river. This chance experience leaves the young man with an increasingly aching neck, which eventually causes his retired father (Miao Tien) to break off from cruising saunas for gay sex and to take notice and get help for his son. The young man's mother (Lu Hsiao-ling), much younger than her husband and an elevator operator at a vast mall restaurant, becomes equally concerned.

Tsai's ability to record solitary existences caught up in everyday routines in compelling fashion recalls that of Chantal Akerman. As expressive as he is austere, Tsai can hold an image and flood it with meaning and emotion not unlike Michelangelo Antonioni and Nina Menkes. The father and son's search for a cure provides "The River" with a stunning finish.

The series concludes Monday at 7:30 p.m. with Claire Denis' "I Can't Sleep" (1994), a taut, elegant, acutely observant study of several intersecting lives in contemporary Paris, where a beautiful aspiring actress (Katerina Golubeva) arrives from Lithuania. Through her great aunt she manages to find shelter at a small hotel run by a warm, caring older woman (legendary singer-entertainer Line Renaud), where a handsome young gay man (Richard Courcet) also resides.

"I Can't Sleep" becomes a story of surviving in an often cold, alienating Paris, not only on the part of the actress and the gay man but also his brother (Alex Descas), a musician and carpenter who longs only to return to Martinique--a prospect dreaded by the young Parisian (Beatrice Dalle) who has borne him a child. As these people go about their daily struggles, we hear news reports of a series of murders of elderly women, and "I Can't Sleep" emerges as a powerful, unsettling comment on the illusion of security in all its aspects--emotional, financial and physical--in the modern world.

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"Film Treasures: The Alex Salutes the UCLA Film and Television Archive" commences at Glendale's Alex Theater (216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale) with the 8 p.m. screening on Wednesday of Howard Hughes' "Hell's Angels" (1930), which restores the film to its full running time of 127 minutes, re-creates its tinted portions and incorporates a long-missing, eight-minute, two-color Technicolor sequence that represents the only color footage of Jean Harlow. On the ground, "Hell's Angels"' is pretty corny, following two brothers--one weak and cynical (Ben Lyon), the other strong and virtuous (James Hall)--as they are swept away by a shallow society girl (Harlow) and swept up by the outbreak of World War I. In the sky, however, the film remains one of the most exciting examples of aerial warfare, thrilling and unnervingly personal. Almost as suspenseful is whether Harlow will fall out of her gown. (800) 233-3123.

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