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SCREENING ROOM

Herzog Documents Noble's Turbulent Life

December 30, 1996|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Not surprisingly, the highlight of the opening weekend of the American Cinematheque's New Films From Germany series at Raleigh Studios is a one-hour documentary from the ever-venturesome Werner Herzog. It's called "Gesualdo--Death for Five Voices"(Saturday at 9:30 p.m. and Jan. 18, 9:30 p.m.), an elegant inquiry into the turbulent life and complex music of Carlo Gesualdo (1560 or 61-1613), the Neapolitan Count of Venosa.

No wonder Herzog, always drawn to the romantic and the outre, would be attracted to Gesualdo, who infamously got away with a crime of passion, a double murder in 1590, when he caught his wife (and cousin) Maria d'Avalo, believed to be the model for the Mona Lisa, with her lover of two years, the Duke of Andria.

Roaming the ruins of Gesualdo's palace, Herzog picks up from his guide gossip about a bizarre end for Gesualdo, who made a brilliant second marriage in 1594 but became a melancholy recluse who may have simply succumbed from the effects of asthma.

Herzog also visits, in his vast summer palace, the Principe d'Avalo, Maria's gracious collateral descendant and himself a composer. The film also includes the Gesualdo Consort of London performing the count's glorious, moody madrigals.

Opening the series Friday at 7 p.m. are Caroline Link's "Beyond Silence" and Hans-Christian Schmid's "It's a Jungle Out There." Both center on teenagers asserting their independence. "Beyond Silence" is a beautiful, sensitive film in which a pretty 18-year-old clarinetist (Sylvie Testud) with a bright future has an especially difficult time breaking away from her widowed father, who is deaf, as was his late wife. From an early age, the musician was her parents' conduit to the world, and now he fears losing her to a career in music he is unable to hear. American deaf actor Howie SeagoQ is especially impressive as the father.

Thoroughly enjoyable, the second film finds its beautiful, dark-haired 17-year-old small-town heroine (Franka Potente), who after a spat with her father, takes off for Munich. She's taken to the train station by an equally unhappy fellow student, who's gone off in his parents' car. While Potente has adventures in Munich, the two runaways' parents join forces and end up in a soul-baring all-night party. Schmid has an inspired sense of humor and has compassion for the anguish of his absolutely normal people thrashing out their feelings and perceptions of themselves and others

Both "Beyond Silence" and "It's a Jungle Out There" are solid, mainstream efforts, but Martin Walz's "Killer Condom" (Saturday at 7 p.m., Jan. 11 at 9:30 p.m.) is strained, tedious sex-horror comedy that doesn't travel well, even though it is set in Manhattan. Udo Samel stars as a veteran NYPD detective.

An Epic Quest: Among the films screening during the opening weekend of the Nuart's Festival Hong Kong is Tsui Hark's blazing new picture "The Blade" (Friday at 3:10 and 7:30 p.m.) Verging on the surreal and as stylish and richly textured as a Josef von Sternberg film, it's an epic vengeance-quest for identity odyssey in which a young man, Ding On (Wing Zhao), adopted and raised by a master saber manufacturer, sets out to kill the heavily tattooed bandit, Fei Lung (Xiong Xinxin), who had brutally slain his father years earlier.

Soon after beginning his journey, followed by his master's flighty, romantic daughter Siu-ling (Sang Ni), he encounters a bloody, brutal ambush during which he loses an arm. Nursed back to health by Black Head (Chung Bik-ha), an excitable peasant girl, Ding trains himself to become a mighty martial artist in preparation for the big showdown with Fei.

That "The Blade" (a reworking of the 1967 "One-Armed Swordsman") is hard to follow necessitates this bare-bones plot line, identifying key characters and the actors who play them. A legendary Hong Kong maestro of martial arts movies, Tsui reflects upon life lived at its most brutal basic level and the choices individuals make when confronted with the truth about themselves and their lives.

In doing so, he plunges us into a torrent of superbly choreographed action sequences expressed through the most complex and dazzling images and camera movements. Tsui has been called the most venturesome filmmaker working in the mainstream cinema today, and there couldn't be a better argument for that contention than "The Blade."

Information: (310) 478-6379.

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