Chilean emigre experimental film maker Raul Ruiz's 70-minute "Hypothesis of a Stolen Painting" (1978), which Filmforum screens tonight at 8 at LACE, is at once a dryly amusing mystery and a sly parody on tedious, officious art history documentaries and on the whole notion that art can be "explained."
An elderly, garrulous art collector (Jean Rougeul) shows us his collection of seven paintings of the (fictitious) 19th-Century artist Frederic Tonnere that caused a great scandal when they were exhibited a century ago. Seemingly unconnected, they look to be the very kind of academic art that the Impressionists were sweeping away. In any event, the collector says he has imagined a missing eighth painting that explains how all the paintings are connected to reveal what caused the scandal. We discover that the grand salon where he displays his Tonneres is part of an immense old Paris mansion in which tableaux vivants bring the paintings alive. "What fascinates me the most," Ruiz has said, "is this chasm between the ideas that you have of things and the things that you see." (213) 276-7452, (714) 923-2441.
The Academy/UCLA Contemporary Documentary Series continues Tuesday at 8 p.m. with Martyn Burke's "Witnesses: Afghanistan--The Untold Story," an illuminating, comprehensive and relentless account of the Soviet invasion (which screened at the Monica 4-Plex last January) and with the Barbara Trent, Gary Meyer, David Kaspar and Eve Goldberg's 75-minute "Coverup: Behind the Iran-Contra Affair," an incisive and thoroughly disturbing account of the ongoing investigation of the major scandal of the Reagan Administration. The film makers look beyond Iran-Contra, which they suggest will never be fully resolved satisfactorily, to the entire sorry history of U.S. covert operations, which, UC Berkeley professor Peter Dale Scott maintains, over the long run have only destabilized world affairs and undermined democratic governments. The matter-of-fact assertions of Scott and many other scholars and journalists suggest that covert operations, shocking as they are, have become part of the American way of government. (213) 206-FILM, 206-8013.
"Coverup: Behind the Iran-Contra Affair" also screens Thursday at 8:30 as part of the Empowerment Project's video festival, which begins at noon at Highways 18th Street arts complex in Santa Monica and will be followed by a question-and-answer session. Preceding "Coverup" at 7:30 is the premiere of Douglas Dibble's provocative 38-minute "First Strike: Portrait of an Activist," which introduces us to the calmly courageous anti-nuclear activist Katya Komisaruk, who managed to dismantle single-handedly a weapons-computer at Vandenberg Air Force Base only to be denied the opportunity in court to explain the meaning of her actions. Full schedule: (213) 828-8807.
The concluding weekend of "Spanish Cinema: The Politics of Family and Gender" begins Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Cinema and Television Center Room 108 with Bigas Luna's disturbingly powerful "Bilbao" (1978), which recalls "The Collector" but has a far greater emphasis on explicit, though not hard-core, sex. Working in a gritty, naturalistic style, Luna makes completely credible the increasingly distorted imaginings of a young man (Angel Jove), who becomes obsessed with a voluptuous, uncomplicated, hard-working prostitute and nude dancer named Bilbao (Isabel Pisano, who may well be the world's most uninhibited serious actress). "Bilbao" will be followed by Imanoel Uribe's "The Death of Mikel" (1984), in which a petulant, self-absorbed young homosexual (Imanoel Arias) at last comes to realize the connection between political and sexual freedom. Film maker Jose Luis Borau will appear with the dazzling, outrageous dark comedy "Black Brood" (1977), which he produced and co-wrote with its director, Manuel Gutierrez Aragon, and with his own "My Nanny" (1987), which will screen as the series' final program Sunday at 7:30 p.m. in Norris Theater. (213) 743-6071.