'Fugitive Pieces' finds its way back

Hopscotching time on film is never easy, but Canadian writer-director Jeremy Podeswa handles it with skill and care in "Fugitive Pieces," his lovely, absorbing adaptation of Anne Michaels' lauded novel about a circumspect writer haunted by his traumatic past.

Podeswa shifts and crisscrosses between parallel paths to tell this affecting story. The first is set during World War II after little Jakob Beer (an angelic Robbie Kay) escapes from Poland to Greece with a kindly archaeologist named Athos (Rade Sherbedgia) after Nazis kill the boy's parents and abduct his sister. The second strand, set in Canada during the 1960s and '70s, charts the adult Jakob (Stephen Dillane), still frozen by familial loss, as he searches for true peace and love. It's a tricky structure, but once you adjust to the film's deliberate pace and literary rhythms, there are innumerable visual and emotional pleasures to be had.

Also memorable are the film's three lead actresses: Rosamund Pike, who plays Jakob's vivacious, but mismatched, first wife; Ayelet Zurer as Jakob's eventual soul mate; and young Nina Dobrev, heartbreaking in her snippets as Jakob's beloved, vanished sister. Dillane, however, though certainly believable as a tormented spirit, is relatively bland.

-- Gary Goldstein

"Fugitive Pieces." MPAA rating: R for some sexuality. In English, Yiddish, German and Greek with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. At Laemmle's Royal, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, (310) 477-5581; Laemmle's Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 981-9811; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500; Regency Lido, 3459 Via Lido, Newport Beach, (949) 673-8350.


Six women who survived

Just when it seems like the Holocaust has been exposed on screen from every possible angle, yet another pivotal film comes along that demands attention. The latest entry, writer-director Jon Kean's riveting, if all-too-brief, "Swimming in Auschwitz" documents the plights of six women who each ended up in the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during World War II and the shocking inhumanities they endured.

Most compelling, the stories are told by the survivors themselves -- a sextet of remarkable, European-born octogenarians who have been Los Angeles residents for 50-odd years -- with clarity, grace and dollops of dark humor. Accompanied by an impressive array of sometimes ghastly photos and archival footage, along with images of the remains of Auschwitz, the women's nightmarish recollections are disturbingly vivid yet never descend into self-pity or bitterness. What emerges, instead, is a tale of resourcefulness and resilience, as the often-overlooked female perspective on the "Shoah" gets its due.

-- G.G.

"Swimming in Auschwitz." Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 2 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.


Never too late for auditions

The worry as you sink into Jyll Johnstone's engaging documentary "Hats Off" -- about nonagenarian New York actress Mimi Weddell, a tireless pavement-pounder for gigs small ("Law & Order" cameos and forgettable indie films) and smaller (cheese commercials) -- is that it will be a Willard Scott shout-out to simply hanging on.

But it's actually a multifaceted portrait of an American second act -- Weddell was widowed at 65 and turned her lifelong love of grace, illusion and "aht" into a showbiz career -- that both inspires and flummoxes those around her, most notably the grown children who scoff at her and yet themselves seem sadly stalled by a motivation-less existence.

Weddell is certainly personality enough for this kind of follow-around treatment: effortlessly sophisticated with a cigarette holder in front of a camera, bossy at her regular Elizabeth Arden appointments, fabulously spry at her dance and gymnastics workouts, and devilishly competitive at auditions. (She doesn't get chummy with those familiar wrinkled faces: "They've seen me and I've seen them.") And in the end, there is something to be said for the daily victory against ageism Weddell represents. Because if you're not tickled and stirred by the sight of her 95-pound frame kicking off sheets and leaping out of bed to answer a phone -- a gig, maybe! -- then shame on you.

-- Robert Abele

"Hats Off." Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes. At the Laemmle Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500; and the Laemmle Town Center, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 981-9811.


An unoriginal modus operandi

If David Fincher was able to graduate from the grime-chic surface thrills of "Se7en" to the personal, obsessive mastery of "Zodiac," then surely filmmakers can consider serial killers over and done with. But no, here comes the drearily suspense-less "Anamorph" to make grisly/gorgeous images with purposely massacred bodies and leave any human drama pertaining to the act of murder for the movie equivalent of a missing persons bureau. Willem Dafoe plays a boozy, ashen New York detective haunted by the guilt-ridden remnants of a past serial killer's crimes, and whose soul-dead existence may be the muse for a new psycho who likes turning his victims into trompe l'oeil tableaux. But a movie that has to tell us it's about changing perspective with gallery-installation murder scenes and mini-lectures on Renaissance art techniques and Henri Cartier-Bresson's "decisive moment" is like thinking we'll only recognize a plate of peas if the peas spell out the word "peas." Director H.S. Miller thinks he's made something broodingly visionary when you're more likely to be aesthetically shaken up by one of Mad magazine's Fold-Ins.

-- R.A.

"Anamorph." MPAA rating: R for disturbing grisly images, some violence and language. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes. At the Laemmle Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.


It's worth the 'Favor' it asks

"The Favor" is exactly the kind of film most aversely affected by the current glut of releases. In a different distribution climate, it could be nurtured to find an audience; instead, it seems doomed to be unfairly lost in the shuffle. A bracing, nuanced work that flirts with melodrama without ever teetering into sappy conventions, the film is the fiction feature debut of writer-director Eva Aridjis. A man in suburban New Jersey (Frank Wood, a Tony winner perhaps more immediately familiar to fans of TV's "The Flight of the Conchords") seems to have accepted his lonely lot in life when he unexpectedly finds himself acting as foster father to the teenage son (Ryan Donowho) of a former girlfriend (Paige Turco). Subtly acted, with Aridjis showing remarkable trust in her performers, "The Favor" is that rare film that at every turn exhibits good taste and a sense of restraint.

-- Mark Olsen

"The Favor." Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes. At the Laemmle Grand 4-Plex, Cinemas, 345 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, (213) 617-0268.


A man never heard from again

Danny Williams was a burgeoning filmmaker when he fell in with the Andy Warhol crowd at the Factory, and, after apparently falling out of favor in 1966, he disappeared. His niece, director Esther Robinson, tries to put the pieces together in "A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory."

Combining contemporary interviews with Factory survivors and an astounding treasure trove of archival footage shot by Williams himself, the film is an enigmatic, atmospheric portrait of a guy apparently too nice for the notorious Warhol crowd. Many habitues of the Factory -- Paul Morrissey, Gerard Malanga, Brigid Berlin, Billy Name, Chuck Wein, Danny Fields, John Cale -- pop up and the old rivalries and contradictory agendas soon surface. It is remarkable how Williams is essentially shoved to the wayside yet again, steamrolled by other peoples' old insecurities, as seemingly minor slights still seem so raw. Some mysteries simply can't be solved.

-- M.O.

"A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory." Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. At the Laemmle Grand 4-Plex Cinemas, 345 S. Figueroa St., L.A. (213) 617-0268.

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