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Godard's 'Year 90 Nine Zero' Views Germany's Dark Past

SCREENING ROOM

January 29, 1996|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The fall of the Berlin Wall inspired Jean-Luc Godard in his one-hour "Germany Year 90 Nine Zero" (at the Nuart at noon Saturday and Sunday only) to bring back his "Alphaville" private eye Lemmy Caution and imagine him as the Last Spy, a mole planted in East Germany for more than 50 years.

As Caution (the late Eddie Constantine, fittingly in his final role) makes his way to the West, he confronts the ghosts of Germany's dark past. "Germany Year 90 Nine Zero" unfolds in fragments structured like musical variations in which Godard draws upon archival footage in ways that make the technique seem fresh. He incorporates the footage with his usual barrage of philosophical declarations, this time contemplating the nature of history.

Constantine, his deep voice as strong as ever, is ever the trench-coated icon, and serves as the film's commentator as well as traveler. Godard's heart lies clearly with the East, despite its failings, rather than with the glittery, ultra-materialist West, and there are flashes of his characteristic bleak humor. As is generally the case with Godard, he floods us with more ideas, propositions and insights than we can possibly absorb, at least in only one viewing. But his command of his medium is so effortlessly complete that "Germany Year 90 Nine Zero" is tremendously moving even when you know that there's probably lots that's whizzing right past you.

Information: (310) 478-6379.

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Sculptor Portrait: The American Cinematheque will present Peter Schamoni's "Who Is the Monster--You or Me?"--an engaging 91-minute documentary on sculptor and painter Niki de Saint Phalle--Friday at 7:15 p.m. at Raleigh Studios in its monthly Alternative Screen series. Schamoni was fortunate to be able to draw upon considerable archival footage on Saint Phalle and her late husband, kinetic artist Jean Tinguely. The whimsical art, combined with Saint Phalle's mature self-knowledge, has allowed Schamoni to present a unique portrait of an artist as she has evolved over the past 30 years.

Born of an ancient aristocratic French family, Saint Phalle turned to art as a way of venting her rage at her conservative background and most everything else, especially men and her father in particular. Saint Phalle literally took aim with her rifle in her much-publicized splatter painting period, then moved on to her baroque depiction of women in pain, then women as immense devourers and finally as gigantic, gaily decorated earth goddesses.

Once past the loss of her husband in 1991 and a bout of bad health, Saint Phalle found herself renewed in a move to La Jolla. The film's subtext is the clearly loving relationship the beautiful and elegant Saint Phalle has with Tinguely, a warm, good-humored, ruggedly attractive man whose Rube Goldberg-like machinery she has to an extent now incorporated in her own work.

Information: (213) 466-FILM.

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Japanese Animation: Hiroyuki Kitabuko's sleek animated feature "Roujin Z" (Monica 4-Plex, Fridays and Saturdays at midnight) is a startling, blunt and imaginative indictment of the increasingly widespread neglect of the elderly, which has all the more impact coming from a culture that traditionally reveres its older people.

An old, ailing man, Mr. Tazazawa is whisked away by authorities to become the guinea pig in an experiment involving a bed so elaborately equipped that he need no longer be attended by human beings. Aided at first only by his understandably appalled student nurse, he is plunged into adventure when his bed converts into a powerful robot. Three other Japanese animated features, "Wicked City," "The Professional" and "Macross II," begin reruns on the 4-Plex's other screens, also in the midnight slot.

Information: (310) 394-9741.

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Down Under: As part of the UCLA Film Archive's ongoing "Strictly Oz" retrospective of Australian cinema, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art begins its companion series, "Being Australian," Friday at 1 and 8 p.m. with "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" and Bruce Beresford/David Williamson's "Don's Party" (1976), a gratifyingly nasty and hilarious depiction of a blue-collar election-night celebration.

Information: (213) 857-6010.

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Spanish Equation: "Refiguring Spain" continues Saturday and Sunday at USC's Norris Theater with five provocative films dealing with sex, politics and culture, including the landmark gay film "El Diputado" (Saturday at 7 p.m.) and the poignant transvestite documentary "Dressed in Blue" (Sunday at 5 p.m.).

Information: (213) 749-7985.

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