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Finding adventure far from Hollywood

Film series, festivals bring diverse, thought-provoking films to town

Conventional movie wisdom holds that summer is the season for studio blockbusters, while fall ushers in more substantial fare. In Boston's local film scene, however, substance is a year-round obsession. Hollywood action/adventure might grab the big box office numbers, but adventurous film series and festivals will be getting the attention at local independent institutions this year.

The closing night film of last year's Boston Jewish Film Festival, "Nowhere in Africa," went on to win the best foreign language film Oscar. The closing entry for this year's festival, which runs from Nov. 6 to 16, is the equally beautiful and compelling "Almost Peaceful" (Un Monde Presque Paisible), directed by Michel Deville. A hit at the Venice Film Festival, Deville's film is a drama set in post-World War II France starring a host of up-and-coming French actors. Deville will be present at the screening with writer/producer Rosalinde Deville. The event is consistent with the BJFF's 15 years of presenting diverse films from all over the world, along with plenty of guest filmmakers.

Acclaimed experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer presents her latest film, "Resisting Paradise," a reflection on the role of artists in times of conflict, Nov. 15 at the Harvard Film Archive as part of "Global Re-visions: Around the World with Barbara Hammer." That night's program, cosponsored by the BJFF, also includes "My Babushka: Searching Ukrainian Identities" and a new short, "Our Grief Is Not a Cry For War." The HFA's celebration begins with "Devotion," Hammer's film about Ogawa Productions, the Japanese postwar documentary film collective (Nov. 14 at the HFA, with Hammer present).

The Museum of Fine Arts turns its spotlight on Hollywood trailblazer Dorothy Arzner, one of the few women directors to achieve success within the Hollywood studio system of the post-silent era (she's also credited with inventing the boom mike). Arzner's 17 features between 1927 and 1943 are recognized as clever, entertaining films, and modern feminist critiques cite Arzner's depictions of women seeking independence through a career and her skewering of female stereotypes.

"Dance, Girl, Dance" (1940), starring Maureen O'Hara as the "good girl" and a young Lucille Ball as the "vamp," includes a daring scene in which O'Hara's character confronts an all-male audience at a burlesque show. Arzner also helmed Paramount's first sound film, "The Wild Party," starring Clara Bow.

Also in the MFA's seven-film retrospective is the pre-production code comedy "Merrily We Go to Hell" (1932), a pointed take on romance and high society, and "Anybody's Woman" (1930), starring Ruth Chatterton as a chorus girl who marries a well-to-do lawyer and finds herself ill at ease in upper-crust society. The retrospective runs Oct. 2 to 12 and features films restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

The Boston Underground Film Festival, which opens tomorrow and runs through Oct. 10, offers more than a few local ties among its 125 films. The theatrical premiere of "The Diary of Sacco and Vanzetti" is Brookline filmmaker David Rothauser's fresh take on the infamous pair. "The Politics of Fur," an update of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's classic "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant," is directed by Laura Nix, a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art. The film has garnered several awards, including best film and best actress at the Los Angeles Outfest.

"The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant" isn't included in the HFA's major Fassbinder retrospective, but the 15-film program does present nearly all the important films, along with rarely screened work from the master of New German Cinema, who died in 1982 at age 37 leaving behind some 44 films. Actor Ulli Lommel appears at the HFA on Oct. 3 with the documentary "Fassbinder in Hollywood," which kicks off the series.

Included are Fassbinder's first feature from 1969, "Love Is Colder Than Death," starring frequent leading lady Hanna Schygulla, and the 1973 masterpiece "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul," Fassbinder's homage to Douglas Sirk (Oct. 10 and 15). Schygulla ignites the screen in a pair of seminal films from the 1970s that remain the director's most popular works: "The Marriage of Maria Braun" (1978) and "Lili Marleen" (1980). Also made in 1978 is "In a Year of Thirteen Moons," Fassbinder's disturbing film shot in 16mm that follows a transsexual during the final days of his life.

Some of the Fassbinder films will be reprised in "New German Cinema Revisited," the HFA's program of influential German films of the '60s and '70s that runs from Sept. 22 to Nov. 24. Curated by professor Eric Rentschler and co-presented with the Goethe-Institut Boston, the series includes early films from Werner Herzog as well as "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (1972) and "The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser" (1974).

Wim Wenders's 1974 film "Wrong Movement" screens on Oct. 27; also in the program are Wenders's thriller "The American Friend" (based on Patricia Highsmith's novel "Ripley's Game") and "Tokyo-Ga" (1985), shot by American cameraman Ed Lachman, the celebrated cinematographer on Todd Haynes's respected film "Far From Heaven."

The Brattle Theatre in Cambridge looks back at Pier Paolo Pasolini Tuesdays in September and October. "Pasolini and His World" offers new 35mm prints of "Decameron" on Sept. 30, "Arabian Nights" and "Canterbury Tales" on Oct. 7, and "Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom" on Oct. 14. French filmmaker Jean Cocteau is celebrated Oct. 10 and 11, on the 40th anniversary of his death, with screenings of his masterworks "Beauty and the Beast" and "Orpheus."

Another highlight of the Brattle's upcoming season is "Carnage," Delphine Gleize's dazzlingly imaginative film about the almost magical effects that an Andalusian bull, after its death, has on a diverse group of people. Gleize's film, a prizewinner at Cannes and other major European film festivals, plays for a week beginning Oct. 24.

The Coolidge Corner Theatre launches a new movie series this season called "Relatively Speaking," in which famous Boston-area family members present their favorite films on the big screen. On Sept. 22, the couple behind Hamersley's Bistro present Louis Malle's classic talk-and-food fest "My Dinner With Andre." Click and Clack (also known as the Magliozzi brothers) of NPR's "Car Talk" present "A Thousand Clowns" on Oct. 20, and photographer Abelardo Morell and his wife, Lisa McElaney, show the powerful Cuban drama "Memories of Underdevelopment" on Nov. 24.

The Institute of Contemporary Art this fall launches a new program devoted to films about art. New independent animation from Japan will be spotlighted Oct. 23 and 25 in conjunction with the exhibition "Splat Boom Pow-errr! The Influence of Cartoons in Contemporary Art." Looking ahead, Boston-based filmmaker Karen Aqua hosts a screening on Dec. 4 of her award-winning animated films, including her newest film, "Andaluz," as well as a selection of films by fellow New England animators including Daniel Sousa, David G. Ehrlich, Jeff Sias, Geoff Adams, Steven Subotnik, Devon Damonte, Gina Kamentsky, and Chip Moore.

Starting Oct. 2, Indian cinema gets a showing at the MFA. The "Cinema India" series will feature four contemporary films, including the now-traditional Bollywood musicals (if such films can be called traditional) and groundbreaking dramas. Featured films include "I Have Found It," by Rajiv Menon, a contemporary adaptation of Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility," and "A Tale of a Naughty Girl," Buddhadeb Dasgupta's multinarrative film set in a remote village in 1969 at the time of the first moon landing.

"Mr. and Mrs. Iyer," by Aparna Sen, is a drama about a conservative Brahman woman who's aided by a Muslim photographer when riots break out. The last film in the series is "The Servant's Shirt," Mani Kaul's witty film about small-town provincial life. All films in the series have English subtitles.

Loren King can be reached at

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