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FILM : Series Explores Loves That Make the World Go Round

April 08, 1993|MARK CHALON SMITH | Mark Chalon Smith is a free-lancer who regularly writes about film for The Times Orange County Edition.

UC Irvine launches its "Love the Whole World Round" series Friday night with Luis Bunuel's "That Obscure Object of Desire," an ambiguous and eccentric film from one of the most ambiguous and eccentric of the great directors.

The series is intended to reveal love in a variety of conditions from the naive to the perverse. Whether "That Obscure Object of Desire" (1977) is about love or merely passion isn't so clear, but it is clearly about obsession. When we first see Mathieu (Fernando Rey), he looks stable enough. Wealthy, deliberate, humorless and deep into middle age, he seems nothing if not self-assured--a facade that peels away as he falls for young, lovely Conchita (played by two erotic actresses, Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina, in shifting scenes).

As he pursues her, she manipulates him, and Bunuel delves into questions of masochism, sadism and the darker power of ardor. Conchita knows her strength rests with her beauty and Mathieu, though much more powerful than Conchita in terms of society, is helpless before her.

The film has some wonderful flashes of black humor. But it can be confounding. Bunuel seems less sure of his point-of-view here than in his more masterful films (1950's "Los Olvidados" and 1958's "Nazarin," for starters) and doesn't always balance an artful, actively symbolic style with a more realistic one. Still, he rarely fails to surprise. Mathieu and Conchita are oddly compelling, and so is their love, or whatever it is you want to call it.

On April 16, the series shifts to interracial romance with Stanley Kramer's "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (1967), in which an upstanding San Francisco couple, played by Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, have their liberal notions tested when their daughter brings home her fiance, played by Sidney Poitier.

Love (and eroticism) Japanese-style take over the screen April 23 with Juzo Itami's "Tampopo" (1986), a satire about two food-crazed couples in sexy search of the perfect noodle.

A more destructive romance is at the center of Josef von Sternberg's "The Blue Angel" (1930). This classic of the German cinema, with Marlene Dietrich as a chanteuse who ruins a middle-aged teacher, can be seen April 30.

The 1991 Oscar nominee for best foreign film, "Raise the Red Lantern" will be shown May 7. Zhang Yimou's movie looks at Chinese marriage customs (and more) from the perspectives of a rich man's four wives.

Hal Ashby's cult favorite "Harold and Maude" (1972) with Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon, set for May 14, starts off as a May-December romance and veers into takes on love, death, you name it.

Young love as hapless adventure is the theme May 21 with Francois Truffaut's "Stolen Kisses" (1968), in which Antoine Doinel, the director's famous character from "The 400 Blows," grows up some and turns his sights on women.

A gay love-triangle is at the center of Pedro Almodovar's "Law of Desire" (1987), being shown May 28. A hedonistic comedy, it stars Antonio Banderas, last seen as the younger brother in "The Mambo Kings."

How about love between man and inanimate object? Arne Mattsson's "The Doll" (1962), June 4, focuses on a man and his lust for a mannequin that comes to life.

The series ends June 11 with "Sabrina" (1954), a Billy Wilder movie with Audrey Hepburn as a chauffeur's daughter in love with playboy William Holden and pursued by his brother, Humphrey Bogart.

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