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Boston Film Festival shines with movies and stars

Boston Film Festival 1996

Sony Copley Place and Kendall Square Theatre.

September 6 to 19.


By Stephen Brophy
Staff Reporter

Every year the Boston Film Festival offers local audiences a chance to get a jump on the fall arts season and see the movies that are stirring people up in other festival locations like Toronto and Telluride. It also holds out the allure of mixing with stars and directors, this year attracting luminaries like Emilio Estevez, his father Martin Sheen, Gena Rowlands, Lynn Redgrave, Fanny Ardant, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jada Pinkett, Ron Rifkin, and Michael Corrente.

This star-studded event kicks off tonight with Shine, one of the very best films in its program. Lynn Redgrave will attend the 7:40 p.m. show at Sony Copley Place, as well as the opening night party at the nearby Lenox Hotel. Shine documents the descent into madness of a young piano prodigy with a smother-loving monster of a father and his partial recovery through the love of his friends and his devotion to his music. There is not another film in recent memory that has endowed the process of music making with so much excitement - watch for the scene in which the protagonist finally plays Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto in public.

Unhook the Stars is sure to be another crowd-pleaser, and its star, Gena Rowlands, will receive the annual Film Excellence award next Thursday at the Sony Cheri. Directed by her son, Nick Cassavetes, Rowlands plays a widow whose children are drifting away, but who finds new life when she is drawn into the affairs of neighbor Marisa Tomei and her six-year-old son. Tomei delivers an edgy performance in a difficult role and gives promise that she might yet become a good actress and not just a star. Gerard Depardieu also makes an appearance as Mildred's potential love interest.

Probably the hottest, most exciting Festival event will be the screening of Bound, a neo-noir that should take off like Pulp Fiction if there is any justice in this world. Imagine Goodfellas, The Last Seduction, and Go Fish all blended together and you might begin to sense the attractions of this intelligent, sexy, and tense lesbians vs. the Mafia movie. Unfortunately, the young men who might respond most enthusiastically to such a story may not be able to deal with lesbian protagonists, and many lesbians may have a hard time dealing with the violence, bloodshed, and mutilation that accompany the plot. The film may not find the audience it deserves.

Lars Von Trier provides the most interesting foreign film this year, but with his notorious anti-travel phobia, he will not be around to introduce it. Breaking the Waves took the Grand Jury Award at Cannes earlier this year and is a moving parable about the varieties of sainthood possible in the modern world and the incapacity of traditional religious institutions to recognize them. The story takes place on an island off the north coast of Scotland and involves the marriage of a young island woman to an oil-rig worker. It seems slow and claustrophobic for the first hour, but gradually builds in intensity until it reaches its unforgettable conclusion.

From Britain comes a beautiful gay love story, Beautiful Thing, about two high school boys in a housing project and their gradual acknowledgment of their attraction for each other. The beauty of the story comes from the ways the boys open up as they begin to realize that they might find happiness in this life, and also from the road to acceptance travelled by one of the boy's mother. The soundtrack is dominated by the Mamas and Papas. Director Hettie MacDonald will introduce the 7 p.m. showing next Monday at the Kendall Square Theatre.

Two exercises in bringing Shakespeare to the screen offer some interest but ultimately disappoint. Twelfth Night has an all-star cast but might have been better if it switched some of them around. Ben Kinglsley should be playing Malvolio rather than Feste, and Nigel Hawthorne would have made a much better Sir Toby Belch than he does a Malvolio. The misconceived production uses the nineteenth century never-never land setting and costumes that are becoming clichs in Shakespeare stagings but does manage to present the gender confusion at the center of the story with admirable clarity.

Al Pacino tries to find modern relevance for Shakespeare in Looking for Richard, his meditation on Richard III, but his self indulgent exercise alternates between the extremes of too obvious and too preachy, ultimately working much less well than Sir Ian McKellen's masterful movie of the play earlier this year.

Vincent D'Onofrio plays Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja, in The Whole, Wide World, but it is his co-star, Renee Zellweger, who runs away with the show. She is the spirited schoolteacher who tries to love the conflicted pulp fiction writer. The story transpires in east Texas in the 1930s, and lesser actors would have been swamped by the production values, but this pair manages to make this story of a love that could not happen constantly absorbing.

Emilio Estevez directs his father and co-stars with him and Kathy Bates in the big-hearted The War at Home, about a Vietnam veteran and his family trying to adjust after his return from the war. Most of the story transpires as they prepare for their traditional Thanksgiving feast in 1972, and if it gets a little melodramatic toward the climax, it catches the tensions of a loving family focusing on trivialities to avoid the real problem very nicely. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young dominate the soundtrack.

Edward James Olmos will appear with his director and producer, Robert and Irwin Young, when they accept the annual Independent Film Maker Award next Thursday at the Kendall Square Theatre. Olmos stars in the brothers' new film, Caught, an update of the Phaedra legend that takes place in a New York City fish store. Over the years the brothers have made films like Short Eyes, Dominick and Eugene, and The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez and also provided support and technical assistance to many other independent filmmakers in and around New York.

With more than 50 feature films, and several programs of short films offered during the two weeks of the festival, there is something to suit nearly every taste. Documentaries like Microcosmos, the splendid French investigation of life in a forest meadow; Small, the splendid French investigation of life in a forest meadow; Small Wonders, the heart-warming, Academy Award-nominated story of a successful music teaching program in Harlem; and Paradise Lost, a look by the makers of Brother's Keeper at the aftermath of the murders of three boys in an Arkansas town, share the screens with their more numerous fictional equivalents. Ten-movie passes can be purchased for $65, and t-shirts and other memorabilia will also be available.

Copyright 19,95, The Tech. All rights reserved.
This story was published on 9/6/96.
Volume 116, Number 39.
The story began on page 6 and jumped to page 7.

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