In no time, however, Teresa's earthly desires are being played out through a series of actions and confessions that tests the resolve of her fellow convent members. It seems that she was so busy pursuing her dream of becoming a nun that her sensualities were simply stifled. The film approaches the issues surrounding a lifelong vow of chastity from a provocative perspective, but at the expense of drama. (James Mardis)

Kontum Diary. From documentarian Steven Smith comes one Vietnam story you almost certainly haven't heard before. A quarter century ago, a young American soldier from North Dallas named Paul Reed found a rucksack in Vietnam containing various personal items belonging to an enemy infantryman, including personal photographs and a book of autobiographical poetry. He mailed it home to his mother, then forgot about it.

When she presented it to him upon his return to the states, Reed became obsessed with the man's memory. He was convinced that he was personally responsible for the man's death. But a news crew managed to locate the Vietnamese soldier, who was actually alive and well and acting as the patriarch of a large family, and arranged a meeting between the two former combatants. Their emotional encounter, which was filmed last year in Vietnam, is an object lesson in the absurdity of war, and forms the centerpiece of this simple, reflective, but quite profound addition to our collective history of that painful conflict. (MZS) Paul Reed in attendance.

9:15 p.m.
The Comfort of Strangers. (1990) From filmmaker Paul Schrader comes this dark, playful, and astonishingly perverse tale of a hapless young married couple (Natasha Richardson and Rupert Everett) who fall under the spell of a mysterious German millionaire (Christopher Walken) while on vacation in Venice.

Adapted by Harold Pinter from Ian McEwan's novel, it's basically an extended shaggy dog joke with an infuriating punchline, but the performances and a few terrifically gothic thrills make it worth checking out. See article "Magnificent Obsession" for more on Schrader. (MZS) Schrader in attendance.

Monday, April 24
7 p.m.
Ballot Measure 9. Writer-director Heather McDonald's documentary Ballot Measure 9 crackles with emotionally explosive scenes, creating a harrowing portrait of the 1992 Portland-based battle by gay and lesbian activists to prevent the passage of a measure that would deny homosexual citizens legal recourse against discrimination in housing and employment.

It's difficult to say which is harder to watch--the horrendous instances of intimidation and violence suffered by Measure 9 opponents both homo and hetero, or the mind-boggling campaign of cheap lies and unblinkered hate talk spewed by ministers, elected government officials, grandmothers, and children who seem to sincerely believe that recognizing tax-paying gays and lesbians as full-fledged U.S. citizens will lead to the collapse of America.

Of course, the filmmaker's sympathy tilts toward the "No on 9" activists, which is the central problem of Ballot Measure 9. While moments in the film are guaranteed to raise your blood pressure, you finish feeling not so much outraged as perplexed at the preposterous positions taken by the Oregonian homophobes. We get scenes of marches, protest sing-alongs, brainstorming sessions, and a tense election-night count-down on the pro-gay side, but there's no in-depth exploration of the peculiar paranoia that propels so many of the homo-haters to outright persecution. Ballot Measure 9 turns everyday people who fight gay discrimination into heroes, but it's the passionate villains, so sketchily portrayed here, that will intrigue some viewers more. (JF) Heather McDonald is in attendance.

Open Season. You know you're in for a long haul when the opening credits proclaim Open Season as "A fable by Robert Wuhl," and such gags as a network adventure series about a kung-fu-fighting nun ("Kicking the Habit") and a parade of whiny liberal public broadcasters, stuffy TV critics, and cigar-chomping network bigwigs are presented as the height of comic invention. As a director, Wuhl (an actor who had supporting parts in Bull Durham, Batman, and Cobb) hammers each punchline home with the oddly distanced zeal his sportswriter character in Cobb displayed while cursing out a baseball hero.

It doesn't help that Wuhl has cast himself in the lead as a righteous, fidgety, and decidedly humorless ratings company employee who rides public television's improbable breakthrough toward a journey of self-discovery. In terms of watchability and viewer sympathy, compared to Wuhl, Kevin Pollak is Jimmy Stewart. In case you're wondering, the character's last name is "Sane." It's that kind of movie. (MZS) Robert Wuhl and soundtrack composer Marvin Hamlisch in attendance.

Sony Pictures Classics Sneak Preview. The good folks at Sony Classics won't reveal what new movie they're going to show, but suspense isn't the only appeal of this program. There's also supposed to be a substantive discussion of the early years of the USA Film Festival, featuring Sony Pictures chair Marcie Bloom and festival co-founder L.M. "Kit" Carson. Co-presented with the Irving, Texas Film Commission. (MZS)

12 Steps to Death. Joe Queenan is a humorist best-known for his extravagant, archly observant essays on film trends in Movieline, so fans will be eager to see Queenan's first foray into low-budget filmmaking. Sadly, his debut as producer-writer-director, 12 Steps to Death, displays the cardinal sin of satirical cinema--an unfunny script that lurches on its course like a flatulent snuffalufagus, pausing before each target and expelling noxious gas that lingers unpleasantly in the air but never quite achieves the necessary rudeness.

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