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Wide-Ranging Survey of Spanish Cinema


The American Cinematheque's "Recent Spanish Cinema" (Friday through Sunday at the Directors Guild) reveals the diversity, vitality and daring of Spanish films, most of which unfortunately never make it to American screens.

The Cinematheque's selection is venturesome, to say the least, ranging from the supersexy, dark-pitched comedies for which Spain is best known, to several demanding experimental films, and a well-mounted, straightforward TV adaptation of "Don Quixote."

The series commences Friday at 7 p.m. with Victor Erice's formidable 138-minute "Dream of Light," an exquisite, mysterious study of a painter, Antonio Lopez, and his steadfast attempt to capture the beauty of a quince tree with a geometric precision that causes him even to factor in the drooping of the fruit as it ripens.

No photorealist, Lopez is caught up in exploring the relationship between art and nature, and Erice, best known for "The Spirit of Beehive" and "The South," celebrates the creative impulse as a triumph over the inevitability of mortality.

It will be followed at 9:30 p.m. with Bigas Luna's "Golden Balls," an outrageous and entertaining send-up of self-deluding machismo starring Javier Bardem, who played the stud in Luna's recent "Jamon, Jamon." Bardem is exceedingly, almost comically handsome and virile, but he's also a superb actor capable of commenting on the Latin lover stereotype, who in this instance is a ruthless, struggling builder who equates erecting skyscrapers with his sexual potency. Producer Andres Vicente Gomez will be on hand for a post-screening discussion.

Jose Luis Guerin's "Innisfree" (Saturday at 2:45 p.m.) returns to the lush Irish countryside where John Ford shot "The Quiet Man" in 1951, and the making of that classic becomes a point of departure for considering Irish politics, history and folklore. This is an evocative but overly leisurely film with long-held shots of idyllic locales, and it becomes tedious way before it reaches its full 110-minute running time.

The least impressive offering in the series, Francisco Rigueiro's "Mother Gilda" (Saturday at 4:45 p.m.) ponderously explores the madonna/whore complex, epitomized here by Rita Hayworth in "Gilda," while skewering the dreary, extravagant decadence of the Franco regime. Such themes have been dealt with before far more effectively, and "Mother Gilda" really belongs on the stage, since its unfolds like a filmed play.

Superbly designed and beautifully lit, Manuel Gutierrez Aragon's two-part, 310-minute "El Quijote"--Part I screens Saturday at 7 p.m.--is a faithful, vigorous adaptation of Cervantes that probably plays better on the small screen for which it was intended but is enlivened by that suave and versatile veteran Fernando Rey, whose glorious portrayal caps a distinguished international career. Aragon will be present for a Q&A; Part II screens Sunday at 3 p.m.

"The Bilingual Lover" (Saturday at 10 p.m.) is another but more impressive exploration of obsessive passion from Vicente Aranda, director of "Lovers." Imanol Arias stars as an impoverished Catalan who marries a rich Barcelona beauty (Ornella Muti) but ends up a street accordionist dressed like the Phantom of the Opera. What happens next attests to Arias' fine skills as an actor and to Aranda's bold imagination. Aranda and producer Andres Vicente Gomez will be present for a discussion following the film.

In an instance of saving the best for the last, Imanol Uribe's "The Dumbfounded King" (Sunday at 1 p.m.) is the lightest, sliest of satires in which a shy 17th-Century 20-year-old king (Gabino Diego)--never named but surely Phillip IV--loses his virginity with the most celebrated prostitute of the day (Laura del Sol) in an assignation arranged by a worldly count.

When as a result the young monarch demands to see his beautiful French queen (Anna Roussel) naked, scandal erupts, even provoking a hearing of the high tribunal of the Inquisition, where one priest proclaims that if Spain loses its war with Flanders or its fleet to English privateers it would be on account of the king's request. This is a timeless, witty observation suggesting that those most eager to repress sex seem ever to be those most obsessed by it.

Information: (213) 466-FILM.

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