Among the many films screening in the Los Angeles Festival this week are several that were available for preview and worth singling out. Above all is Vigen Chaldranian's mesmerizing "The Voice in the Wilderness" (tonight at UCLA's Melnitz Theater at 7:30 p.m. and again on Saturday, Sept. 4, at 7:30 p.m. at the Nuart), an astonishing and powerful allegory of Armenia's anguished history. Its ending echoes that of "Candide" and, on one level, its hero's pilgrimage parallels the ordeal of Christ--in this it is reminiscent of Sergei Paradjanov's shimmering "Legend of the Surami Fortress." However, in contrast to the tableaux with the richness and intricacy of tapestry that mark Paradjanov's style, Chaldranian displays the earthy gusto of Pasolini and the love of pageantry of Fellini.
Sometime in antiquity--but the implications for the present are crystal clear--a holy man named Martiros (which in Greek means witness as well as martyr) peering from the belfry of a destroyed church and feeling oppressed by the evil forces beleaguering his country, commences upon a pilgrimage. At every turn, however, appearances deceive him: That which looks to be holy turns out to be profane--in an instant a holy prayer can turn into a satanic orgy. What Martiros (played by the handsome, bearded Chaldranian himself) learns is that his true duty lies in returning to Armenia to struggle for its freedom and rebirth. Indeed, the entire film becomes a profoundly moving spiritual call to arms for Armenians everywhere around the world.
Without a doubt, Eran Riklis' thoroughly engrossing "Cup Final" (at Sony Studios' Cary Grant Theater Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.) is one of the finest Israeli films ever made--and also one of the world cinemas' most effective anti-war pictures. In certain moments it even recalls Jean Renoir's "Grand Illusion." Its wistful hero Cohen (Moshe Ivgi), his tickets in hand for the 1982 World Cup soccer finals in Barcelona, is called up to serve in Israel's invasion of Lebanon. He's swiftly taken prisoner by eight PLO commandos who intend to take him to Beirut for either bounty or a prisoner exchange. Although Cohen curses his fate, he is in fact exceedingly fortunate that the commandos' leader Ziad (Muhammad Bacri) is a sophisticated, humane individual who is able to perceive that both he and Cohen are but pawns in an ultimately meaningless game over which they have no control. Besides, Ziad shares Cohen's passion for soccer, and the World Cup competition becomes a metaphor for the struggle which has ensnared the Israelis and the forces of the PLO. Riklis is a classic screen storyteller, and is one of a growing number of Israeli filmmakers to deal sympathetically with the plight of the Palestinians.
Moshen Makhmalbaf's "Once Upon a Time, Cinema" (UCLA Melnitz Saturday at 7:30 p.m.) is a pure enchantment celebrating the birth of the movies but also contemplating their awesome and often treacherous power. Mehdi Hashemi, a Chaplin look-alike, plays an enthusiastic pioneer filmmaker who has caught the capricious fancy of the Sultan--or Shah--(veteran star Ezatolah Entezami) in turn-of-the century Teheran. A fantasy that becomes increasingly critical of the excesses and cruelties of the Shah, it also showcases clips from early Persian films; in one instance the heroine of one primitive melodrama magically winds up in the Shah's harem, much to her horror. Shot in black and white, the film is set largely in Teheran's majestic old Golestan Palace, shimmering with crystal chandeliers and mirror-mosaic walls. Information: (800) FEST-TIX.
As part of its "1933" series LACMA is presenting Saturday at 1 p.m. and again at 8 p.m., William Wellman's "Heroes for Sale" and "Wild Boys of the Road." What makes the second unusual is that unlike the large majority of '30s movies it tackles the Depression head-on rather than providing escape from it. To be sure, it is fast, breezy, naive and sentimental like many other Warners movies of the same vintage, but beyond this it surely must also be one of the most unsparing portraits of the Depression made during its very depths. Frankie Darro, Edwin Phillips and Dorothy Coonan (who was to marry Wellman) play young people riding the rails around the country in search of work. (213) 857-6010.