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SPECIAL SCREENINGS

An Impressive Offering of 'New Films From Germany'

January 11, 1994|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"New Films From Germany," which will be presented at the Directors Guild, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Thursday through Sunday, is one of the American Cinematheque's strongest offerings ever. Once upon a time most of these films would automatically be picked up for U.S. distribution, but today this may well be your only chance to see some of these truly outstanding pictures.

Thrillers don't get much better than Lars Becker's taut, economic film noir "Shadow Boxing," which opens the series Thursday at 7:15 p.m. Becker plunges us into the action with no exposition only to intertwine the strands of his plot with a relentless tension. The heart of the matter is that a recently released ex-con (Diego Wallraff, who will appear in person) believes he has a moral obligation to prevent another convict (Hussi Kutlucan), who saved his life in a prison fight, from being deported to Ghana, where he faces certain execution.

The point that "Shadow Boxing" makes so deftly is that the criminals depicted in it are penny ante crooks, capable of living up to their own code of conduct, compared to the police officers, who deal drugs on the side but are charged with delivering Kutlucan to Accra. With nary a touch of heavy-handedness, "Shadow Boxing" also pinpoints the sorry state of political asylum in Germany and also its all-too-familiar racism.

"Shadow Boxing" will be followed at 9:15 p.m. with Werner Herzog's "Lessons of Darkness," a somber yet exalted meditation upon the devastation wrought upon Kuwait, which paradoxically turns vistas of limitless destruction and desecration of the landscape into images of terrible beauty, accompanied by Herzog's spare, incantatory narration and a score that contains great swaths of classical music.

Perhaps the most complex of all the offerings, Hans Geissendorfer's film of Friedrich Durrenmatt's "Justiz" (Friday at 7 p.m.) begins, after only the briefest prologue, with Maximilian Schell, cast as a witty and philosophical Swiss state senator, calmly entering a luxe Zurich hotel restaurant and shooting to death a colleague almost as prominent as he--and without any apparent motive.

One of the many witnesses (Thomas Heinze), a young attorney, ends up agreeing to investigate what seems patently an open-and-shut case only to wind up ensnared in labyrinth of shocking corruption and decadence. This formidably dense film means to reveal the difference between law and justice but is most striking--and most accessible--as a timeless tale of a naif caught up in a predicament way beyond his sophistication and experience. Geissendorfer will be present.

Katja von Garnier's "Abgeschminkt!" ("Makin' Up"), which screens Saturday at 9:45 p.m., lends the series a welcome light touch. Reminiscent of Dorris Dorrie's "Men . . . ," Garnier's giddy, zesty romantic comedy introduces a pair of beautiful, liberated young women, the brunet Maischa (Nina Kronjager, who brings to mind Geena Davis) and the blond Frenzy (Katja Riemann); the antics of the first, a nurse, inspire the work of the second, a struggling cartoonist. Garnier will be on hand.

In an instance of saving the best for last, Bernhard Sinkel's superb heart-tugger "The Movie Teller" (Sunday at 5 p.m.) stars the great actor Armin Mueller-Stahl in the role of a lifetime. He plays a silent movie narrator who rightfully sees both what he does and the movies themselves as genuine art forms, but looming ahead are talkies and the Nazis. What could be merely sentimental becomes endlessly poignant because Mueller-Stahl finds the grandeur and finally bravery in this highly theatrical man. Eva Mattes is Mueller-Stahl's mistress, increasingly impatient with his failure to make her an honest woman. The strong echoes of both "The Last Laugh" and "Cinema Paradiso" in "The Movie Teller" give it resonance rather than make it seem derivative. Mueller-Stahl will appear in person.

Information: (213) 466-FILM.

Note: Actor Rob Morrow's graceful 28-minute "The Silent Alarm" begins Friday at the Westside Pavilion. With an almost total absence of dialogue, Morrow allows us to see through the eyes of a small boy (Jesse Lee Soffer) experiencing increasing dismay at the new man (Scott Renderer) in his mother's life.

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