Week after week "The New Spanish Cinema and the Films of Carlos Saura" at UCLA yields new treasures. This week's key discovery is Vicente Aranda's brand-new "Time of Silence" (at Melnitz Theater Saturday at 8 p.m.).
It resembles Mario Camus' "The Beehive" in its panorama of life under Franco but is a far tougher film, its critical point summed up in some advice given to the film's hero (Imanoel Arias), an idealistic scientist engaged in cancer research: "Leave poor people alone. They can take care of themselves."
But Arias has already become inadvertently involved in the lives of a wretched family, headed by a scruffy, shrewd Francisco Rabal. Working from an adaptation of Luis Martin Santos' acclaimed novel, Aranda makes a trenchant, bleakly witty survey of repressive Spanish society, circa 1950, at all levels, and creates in the process a superbly wrought epic-scale tragedy, recalling the structure and themes of Bertolucci's "The Conformist."
Also most impressive is Saura's 1984 "Stilts" (Friday at 8 p.m.). Fernando Fernan Gomez, who has a Walter Matthau face and thinning red hair, stars as a recently widowed literature professor rescued from a suicide attempt by his vivacious young neighbor (Laura del Sol), but at the price of his falling hopelessly in love with her.
"Stilts" affords Gomez, one of the stalwarts of the Spanish cinema, a rich role that he plays with dignity. This contemplative film's finest sequence has the professor seeking the solace of his oldest friend (Francisco Rabal), and the warmth and skill with which these two veterans invest their scenes are reminiscent of James Mason and John Gielgud in "The Shooting Party."
In "Fast, Fast" (1980), which screens after "Stilts," Saura created for himself a difficult challenge, which he is not able to fully resolve. Returning to the milieu of aimless, impoverished young people of his first film, "The Hooligans," he tells of the impact of a pretty bar waitress (Berta Socuellamos) on a group of youthful gangsters when she begins an affair with their pug-nosed leader (Jose Antonio Valdelomar).
Saura makes no special pleading for what are dangerous professional criminals but provides us with little reason to become involved with their fates, especially at a time of evident economic prosperity and post-Franco democracy. "Fast, Fast" gathers some but not enough meaning toward its finish as a femme fatale saga.
In its way, "MGM: The Silent Twenties" (at Melnitz on Thursdays) has been as rewarding as the Spanish series. Screening at 8 p.m. this week is "White Shadows in the South Seas" (1928), one of the most famous trouble-plagued silents.
The great pioneering documentarian Robert Flaherty started the film but early on the reliable W. S. Van Dyke took over. The result is a choppy mix of muckraking melodrama and ethnographic footage that nevertheless builds to a surprisingly powerful tragic ending. In its blunt, uncompromising social protest it is completely at odds with the already emerging MGM fantasy factory image.
Filmed entirely on location, "White Shadows" is a timeless indictment of the white man's scabrous exploitation of Third World peoples and a touching love story between a compassionate doctor (Monte Blue) and a beautiful native princess (Raquel Torres) who redeems him. "White Shadows in the South Seas" is the first MGM production with synchronized sound effects and a music track--the score has typical Polynesian themes. Phones: (213) 825-2345, 825-2581.