UCLA's outstanding "New Spanish Cinema and the Films of Carlos Saura" concludes this week at Melnitz Theater with an evening of Saura films(tonight) and a bizarre double feature, "Behind the Glass" and "Labyrinth of Passions" (Friday).
Saura's "Antonieta" (1982), screening at 6 tonight, represents a remarkable and effective international collaboration. Jean-Claude Carriere, Luis Bunuel's eminent collaborator, adapted Andres Henestrosa's biographical novel about Mexico's ill-fated patroness of the arts and political activist Antonieta Rivas Mercade, who comes of age during Mexico's turbulent Revolutionary era in the teens. Isabelle Adjani plays Antonieta (who brings to mind Adjani's "Adele H." in her intensity) and Hanna Schygulla is the present-day writer trying to learn why the aristocratic Antonieta committed suicide in Notre Dame in 1931. "Antonieta" is a beautiful, contemplative film about a woman committed to unreciprocated love.
In the 1978 "Blindfolded" (screening at 8) Saura attacks political terrorism with its kidnapings and torture through the unfolding of a love story between an aspiring actress (Geraldine Chaplin) and the director of an experimental acting company intent upon dramatizing those contemporary horrors despite threats from the terrorists themselves. Saura's 1981 "Sweet Hours"(screening after "Blindfolded) is another elegant and assured contemplation of the past, in which a 40ish stage director (Inaki Aierra) begins to fall in love with the beautiful actress (Assumpta Serna) whom he has cast in a play as his own mother (also played by Serna), who died young but for whom he holds an undying Oedipal love.
Agustin Villaronga's 1982 "Behind the Glass" (Friday at 8) is about as morbid a movie as one could wish--obviously that's saying a lot these days--yet there's no denying that Villaronga casts a compelling spell. (At the same time, those moved to walk out during the first scene will have no reason to regret they did so). A Nazi concentration camp doctor (Gunter Meisner), now confined to an iron lung in a gloomy and remote mansion, apparently somewhere in Spain, acquires a new attendant, a pale, creepy young man (David Sust) whom he does not recognize as having been his special favorite boy at the camp and was therefore spared a hideous death to grow up to exact a crazed revenge.
Luckily, Pedro Almodovar's light and hilarious sex farce "Labyrinth of Passions" follows "Behind the Glass" to lift the spirits. Almodovar brings to his classic plotting, laden with mix-ups and confrontations, an exuberantly liberated punk sensibility. A sexy blonde (Cecelia Roth) considers herself a happy nymphomaniac until she falls for the young exiled heir (Imanoel Arias) to a Mideastern throne who up to now has considered himself gay.
Just as the Spanish series concludes "Comedy, Italian Style, 1950--1980," a 51-film retrospective commences at UCLA Melnitz and later LACMA's Bing Theater. A combination of beloved classics and the unfamiliar, the series begins Saturday at the Melnitz at 7:30 p.m. with Luigi Comencini's internationally popular "Bread, Love and Dreams" (1953), a rural comedy in which country girl Gina Lollobrigida pursues local \o7 carabiniere\f7 Vittorio De Sica, paired with Alberto Lattuada's little-known "The Beach" (1954). Sunday brings a terrific early Fellini double bill, "Variety Lights" (1950; co-directed with Lattuada) and "The White Sheik" (1952), in which a glorious Alberto Sordi has the title role as a cartoon hero adored by a provincial bride.
Like a preliminary sketch for a vast and splendid mural, "Variety Lights" reveals Fellini's wondrous vision of life in all its joy and sadness, hope and fear, triumph and defeat, that would soon emerge more fully. Set against a show biz background at its seediest, it tells of a Checco (Peppino De Felippo), a small-time, middle-aged vaudevillian who falls for a backwoods beauty contest winner (Carla Del Poggio) with ambitions for stardom; waiting in the wings (in more ways than one) is Giulietta Masina, Checco's endlessly forgiving mistress. Information: (213) 825-2345, 825-2581.