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Films to Catch Before the L.A. Festival Comes to an End : LOS ANGELES FESTIVAL: "Home, Place and Memory" A City-Wide Arts Fest

September 16, 1993|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the L.A. Festival completes its final week there are still many worthy films on view, some of which you may have missed when they were shown earlier.

Ghasem Ebrahimian's "The Suitors" (Bing Theater, Thursday at 7 p.m.) is so thoroughly unpredictable that it takes awhile to appreciate that its view of the Iranian expatriate experience in America is as tragic as it is comic. It is remarkably accomplished in its shifts of tone for a first feature and is so distinctive that it was the only American film selected out of 50 entries for the Directors Fortnight at Cannes in 1988.

A comically bizarre death renders a beautiful Iranian emigre (Pouran Esrafily) a rich widow almost instantly upon her arrival in New York; the friends of her late husband who pursue her do not understand that she is for the first time in her life tasting an unexpected taste of freedom. The film's twists and turns prove to be as breathtaking as Esrafily's dark elegance.

More ethnographic than dramatic, Naguib Ktiri-Idrissi's "Aziz and Itto: A Moroccan Wedding" (the Vision Complex, Leimert Park, Saturday at 2 p.m.) is a gentle tale about a young shoemaker, Aziz (Samir Touzami), from Fez who attends a traditional brides' festival in the High Atlas Mountains where he picks a pretty Berber girl, Itto (Itto Hadou Al Majnoun), for his wife, much to the initial chagrin of his parents who disapprove of his marrying a woman of a different culture. Since his entire cast is non-professional, Ktiri-Idrissi wisely does not demand much of their acting abilities, but as a result there's not much development in his characters. Shot entirely on location, "Aziz and Itto" gains from its ancient exotic settings, and its high point is the lengthy wedding celebration in which Itto is costumed with a grandeur worthy of the Queen of Sheba or Cleopatra herself.

Quite possibly the most challenging film program offered by the festival this week is Ngozi Onwurah's "The Body Beautiful" and Leslie Thornton's work-in-progress "The Great Invisible" (Norris Theater, Saturday at 7:30 p.m.). In a mere 23 minutes Onwurah, daughter of a British white woman and a black doctor from Nigeria, examines her relationship with her mother and the meaning of her mother's mastectomy. Onwurah, a model as well as a filmmaker, succeeded in getting her mother, Madge, to play herself, reveal her scarred, middle-aged torso at one point and even participate in an erotic fantasy. With tact, daring and a sense of the poetic, Onwurah confronts us with her mother's humanity and dignity, challenging the view of women as alluring sexual objects.

"The Great Invisible," which the festival first screened Sept. 7, is in its 35 minutes more exciting than most completed films. Its beautiful, tantalizing fragments--some black and white, some in color, some in sound, others silent with intertitles--suggest that Thornton has in the making a wonderfully surreal and ambitious biography of writer and poet Isabelle Eberhardt, who fled Geneva at the turn of the century for Algiers where she embraced Islam and sex with apparently equal fervor.

Eberhardt, Thornton tells us, was born the daughter of an anarchist and former Russian Orthodox priest sometimes called the pope in his homeland and a woman who had such a phobia about trains that when she followed her daughter to Algeria she traveled entirely by carriage. Thornton's use of archival footage seems deliberately ambiguous: On the one hand she suggests that Eberhardt was deliberately fleeing an increasingly industrialized society and on the other shows us a clip of the aged Thomas Edison himself, who tells us of film's unique capacity "to annihilate time and space." Information: (213) 240-7600; tickets: (800) 337-8849.

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