Filmforum presents tonight at 8 at the Hollywood Moguls, 1650 Schrader St. (formerly North Hudson), one of its most daunting offerings, "Discipline and Punish," composed of three films responding to political violence.
Stefan Ferreira Cluver's extraordinary 30-minute film "Observations on Certain Sensation" is a philosophical discourse on torture and the body. Taking a discreet, indirect approach incorporating a wide array of images and information, Cluver makes bearable the unbearable as he not only describes various methods of torture and its impact upon its victims but also links them to anatomy, architecture and even cartography--because maps provide "information for the exercise of power."
Also screening are Bill Morrison's five-minute "Photo Op," in which footage of a World War II victory parade becomes a point of departure for contemplating the larger meaning of warfare, and Ellen Bruno's 28-minute "Satya: A Prayer for the Enemy," a beautiful, harrowing portrait of Tibetan nuns who had the courage to stand up to their unspeakably cruel Chinese oppressors. Information: (213) 466-4143.
Along with recent films, the Japan Today Festival at the Monica 4-Plex is presenting Kaneto Shindo's 1968 "Kuroneko" (Wednesday at 3:15 and 7:45 p.m.; Thursday at 5:30 and 10 p.m.), one of the director's finest pictures, and Shiro Toyoda's 1969 similarly impressive "Portrait of Hell" (Wednesday at 5:30 and 10 p.m.; Thursday at 3:15 and 7:45 p.m.)
"Kuroneko" opens with a horde of ragged samurai descending upon a hut in the middle of a carefully tended field. They rape the two women they find there, eat their food supply and set fire to the thatched hovel, leaving the victims to be quickly consumed in the flames. Only a pet cat survives.
All this occurs, at the beginning of the film, so quickly that it seems to happen faster than it takes to describe it. The pace scarcely lets up in this eerie allegory in which the ghosts of the two victims (Kiwako Taichi, Nobuko Otowa) have invoked the evil gods to allow them to exact a fitting revenge. With its weird sounds, bizarre special effects and yards of silken gowns and draperies flowing in the mist, "Kuroneko" is a film of stunning sensual beauty.
"Portrait of Hell," a fable set in the 10th Century, emerges with strong contemporary implications--even touching upon the longstanding tensions between Japan and Korea. Based upon a short story by Ryonosuke Akutagawa, author of "Rashomon," the film has been directed with flamboyant, bloody grandeur by Toyoda.
Tatsuya Nakadai stars as a Korean painter who persuades his patron, a petulant, despotic lord (Kinnosuke Nakamura) to allow him to paint his vision of hell; the twist that gives the film its strength and irony is that the painter becomes as evil as his lord in the process.
At stake, however, is a clash between the artist's pursuit of truth and a despot's delusions of grandeur. For all the extravagance of its acting, its bravura camera work and frequent sheer terror of its imagery, "Portrait of Hell" is a remarkably well-controlled picture. Information: (310) 394-9741.
The Shah's People: Dariush Mehrjui's "The Mina Cycle" (1976) is one of the masterpieces of the world cinema, a neo-realist work in which an elderly man, when forced to sell his blood in order to live, becomes a symbol of the draining of the life of the poor under the Shah of Iran.
His taut, splendid new film "Sara" (opening Friday at the Monica 4-Plex) is a contemporary "Doll's House" in which a dutiful, traditional Persian wife (Niki Karimi) borrows money to send her husband (Amin Tarokh) to Switzerland for life-saving medical treatment, telling him the money is an inheritance from her father and thereby falling into the hands of an unscrupulous lender.
Anguish and suspense evolve into a plea for equality in marriage, a courageous stand for Mehrjui to take in today's Iran, where women have been required to return to wearing the \o7 chador\f7 .
Information: (310) 394-9741.
More UK/LA: The UK/LA Scottish Film Retrospective presents on Saturday at 7 p.m. in UCLA's Melnitz Theater Ian Sellars' "Venus Peter" (1989), an austere, demanding mood piece centering on a dreamy, sturdy 8-year-old (Gordon R. Strachan) who lives in a picture-postcard village with his mother (Caroline Peterson) and loves spending time with his gruff, staunch fisherman grandfather (Ray McAnally); the key to the boy's longings is his absent father, who deserted the family when his son was born.
Information: (310) 206-FILM.