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Fearless Portrayer of Iranian Women

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Iranian director Tahmineh Milani, recently jailed because of her current film “Hidden Half,” will appear after a screening of her 1999 “Two Women” at 3 p.m. Friday at James Bridges Theater in UCLA’s Melnitz Hall. The two are companion films, both starring exquisite Niki Karimi as brilliant, outspoken young University of Tehran students whose lives are upturned by the Islamic revolution. “Hidden Half” has a broader, more ambitious scope, but “Two Women” is the tighter, more even work, making more effective use of melodrama; in any event, both are major works of potent topical impact.

In “Two Women,” Karimi plays Fereshteh, from a small town outside Isfahan, who first tutors, then becomes friends with fellow student Roya (Marila Zarei).

The film unfolds as a flashback after Roya receives an emergency call from Fereshteh some 15 years after the last time she heard from her.

Both had looked toward a bright future, which Roya has fulfilled as an architect in partnership with her husband, to whom she is happily married.

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In contrast, Fereshteh’s life has been blighted since a young man (Atila Pesiani) fell so obsessively in love with her that he became a life-threatening stalker.

So destructive a force is the stalker and so defenseless is Fereshteh that various calamities later she ends up pressured into an arranged marriage to a traditional man who reneges on his promise to let her continue her education. Her independent spirit threatens her husband to the extent that he soon treats her as a virtual prisoner and slave.

As an actress, Karimi is as powerful, impassioned and fearless as her director, who discusses her remarkable film after its screening. (310) 206-FILM.

The American Cinematheque’s Alternative Screening offering tonight at 7:30 is Michael Walker’s creepy psychological suspense mystery “Chasing Sleep,” which features a masterful performance by Jeff Daniels as a small-college literary professor coping with a missing wife, bad plumbing, an emotionally fragile student (Emily Bergl), an insistent police detective (Gil Bellows) and escalating insomnia.

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It’s a notable first film that might be tightened a bit here and there for greater effect. (323) 466-FILM.

Arik Kaplun’s “Yana’s Friends,” which opened last year’s International Jewish Film Festival and swept the 1999 Israeli Academy Awards, begins regular engagements Friday at the Music Hall in Beverly Hills and the Town Center in Encino.

It’s an amiable, rambling romantic comedy that takes a ruefully humorous look at life’s woes. It’s 1990, and Yana (Evelyn Kaplun, the director’s wife) and her husband, Fimka (Israel Damidov), are among the flood of Russians emigrating to Israel.

They land in an old Tel Aviv building, where they share an apartment with rangy, easygoing playboy Eli (Nirand Levi), who says he’s soon off to America for film school but in the meantime scrapes together a living by videotaping weddings and the like--and he’s not above taping his many girlfriends cavorting in the nude.

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No sooner has the Russian couple settled in than Fimka heads back to Moscow with borrowed money to set up a business. In short, he’s ditched the lovely--and pregnant--Yana; will Eli shape up and come to her rescue?

Subplots involving Yana and Eli’s neighbors tend to be digressive, but the warmth and affection in the film’s humor bring it apt comparisons with Eastern European comedies of the ‘60s. “Yana’s Friends” is hardly a masterpiece, but it’s easy to appreciate Kaplun’s resilient survivor’s sense of humor. Music Hall: (310) 274-6869; Town Center: (818) 981-9811.


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