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Trying a New 'Mexperiment'

Huntington Beach anthology captures the shaggy, offbeat world of alternative Mexican short films.


We've had so many film series and festivals lately--Korean cinema, Oscar surveys, gay videos, animation movies, Chaplin, Capra and Hitchcock tributes, Audrey Hepburn and Woody Allen retrospectives, film noir feasts and Jewish celebrations along with cult classics, weather-themed classics, Warner Bros. classics, Japanese and Italian classics--enough classics to make you wonder what failed to make the cut.

Movie mania in Orange County continues with a Mexican flavor this weekend, highlighted by an entertaining, nontraditional film anthology, "Mexperimental Cinema," Friday, 8 p.m., at the Huntington Beach Art Center (538 Main St.). $4-$6. (714) 374-1654.

Though slight, it captures the shaggy, laid-back, offbeat mood of Mexican experimental shorts made over the last 30 years or so with clever use of limited resources.

The eight movies--ranging from 2 1/2 to 27 minutes--were shot on Super-8 millimeter or 16-millimeter film, transferred to video and include "leftist polemics and the counterculture fantasies of the student movement, punk rants and political satires," notes series co-curator Rita Gonzalez, who will be at the art center for a post-screening discussion.

The styles and techniques are imaginative and to some extent recall various works by American experimental filmmakers such as Stan Brakhage and Bruce Conners, with whom they share a gritty, cross-cultural, vernacular language.

"The history of Mexico's mainstream cinema during the 'golden age' of the 1940s through the mid-1950s is well documented," Gonzalez adds. Not so the work of Mexico's independent and fringe filmmakers.

"My take on hosting the program," says Tyler Stallings, the art center's curator of programs, "is that we're supporting experimental filmmaking. There aren't a lot of venues for that in Southern California, which is surprising given that this is where the American industry is located. There's Filmforum and the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles. But that's about it, and Mexican experimental film is a particular niche that hasn't been seen."

At the UC Irvine Film and Video Center, moreover, the mainstream Festival of Mexican Cinema of the 1990s continues Saturday, 7 p.m., with a double-bill screening of Gerardo Lara's "Un ano perdido" (1993), a coming-of-age film involving feminism and love, preceded by Alejandro Moya's "Ponchada" (1994), a black-comedy short involving murder. At Humanities Instructional Building, Room 100 (Bridge Road, near Pereira Drive), UCI campus. $4-$6. (949) 824-7418.

Also continuing at the UCI Film and Video Center, a series called Looking at Revolution presents Ettore Scola's "La Nuit de Varennes" (1982). This smart, lavishly produced period picture set during the French Revolution centers on the night in 1791 when Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette fled Paris to escape the guillotine. The cast has lots of characters, both fictional and historical, including Casanova and Tom Paine.

For period settings, fictional and sometimes historical characters--let alone high-minded vintage adaptations of literary works from E.M. Forster and Henry James to Tama Janowitz--nothing is likely to beat Views of Merchant Ivory, a two-week retrospective of movies by the team of Ismail Merchant (producer), James Ivory (director) and, frequently, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (writer). It opens Friday at the Port Theatre (2905 East Coast Highway, Corona Del Mar). $4.50-$7 (each film). (949) 673-6260.

Although not a complete retrospective of the 40 or so Merchant Ivory pictures turned out over 35 years, the series enables moviegoers to catch up with 14 of them, some of the early ones in new 35-millimeter prints--including "The Householder" (their first, adapted from Jhabvala's novel and made with Satyajit Ray) and "Shakespeare Wallah" (their second, with which "the trio hit its stride," Times reviewer Kevin Thomas has said)--as well as the recent, more familiar ones.

The schedule is Friday-Sunday: "Howards End" (1992) and "The Remains of the Day" (1993); Monday-Tuesday: "Mr. & Mrs. Bridge" (1990) and "Jefferson in Paris" (1995); Wednesday-April 30: "Heat and Dust" (1983) and "Shakespeare Wallah" (1965); May 1-2: "Maurice" (1987) and "Quartet" (1981); May 3-4: "The Bostonians" (1984) and "The Europeans" (1979); May 5-6: "Roseland" (1977) and "Slaves of New York" (1989); May 7: "The Householder" (1963) and "In Custody" (1994).

New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion's first feature, "Sweetie" (1985), will screen Friday, 7 and 9 p.m., by the UC Irvine Film Society at the UCI Student Center, Crystal Cove Auditorium, Pereira Drive and West Peltason Road. $2.50-$4.50. (949) 824-5588.

"Sweetie" centers on the lives of two sisters. "The normal one" is an edgy bundle of phobias and repression; the unbalanced one is Sweetie, an overgrown daddy's girl. Bittersweet and unconventional, the picture has been described by Campion as "loosely autobiographical."

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