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Screening Room

It Doesn't Go by the Book

For booksellers documented in 'BookWars,' life sometimes wanders from the script.

November 09, 2000|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Laemmle Theaters' "Documentary Days" continues Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. at the Sunset 5 with Jason Rosette's terrific "BookWars," in which he reveals the world of his fellow used booksellers who line a stretch of pavement on Manhattan's West 4th Street in Greenwich Village and around the corner on the Avenue of the Americas. Free spirits who've dropped out of the rat race for various reasons, all are striking individuals, some decidedly eccentric.

Just when the documentary hits its most idyllic notes, Mayor Giuliani's "quality of life" drive starts putting the squeeze on the street book vendors in the most heavy-handed and ominous fashion.

Sunset 5 is at 8000 Sunset Blvd. Information: (323) 848-3500.

"BookWars" also screens Nov. 18 and 19 at 11 a.m. at the Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica. Information: (310) 394-9741.

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Among many notable offerings (highlighted by rarely seen Andrzej Wajda pictures) in the second annual Polish Film Festival, at the Monica 4-Plex, are Andrzej Domalik's 1984 "Siegfried" (Friday at 9 p.m.) and Krzysztof Zanussi's "Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease" (Wednesday at 9 p.m.), which is Poland's official Oscar entry.

The first is a stylish, deftly told fable of innocence and corruption set in 1936. A traveling circus has erected its tent on a field by an ancient manor house in a beautiful expanse of countryside. The circus is run by the virile, exuberant Waldo (veteran star Jan Nowicki), who loves his way of life. His gorgeous wife, Maria (Maria Pakulis), is a bareback rider, while Waldo balances on his shoulders an extremely tall ladder; at its top the young Siegfried (Tomasz Hudziec) juggles three balls. Given the year in which the story is set, one can't help but feel Waldo and Siegfried's risky act reflects Poland's fragile position as World War II looms.

Siegfried has caught the eye of the 60-something aristocrat Stefan (Gustav Holubek), who has retired to that ancestral manor, attended by a bitchy manservant. Stefan is an aesthete and an intellectual with a vast library containing prints of Europe's greatest works of art. Siegfried is especially vulnerable to Stefan because he's dissatisfied with the circus and is sensitive and intelligent enough to have his imagination awakened by the world of art to which Stefan introduces him. It never occurs to Siegfried, as he is taken to an expensive men's shop, that Stefan might have ulterior motives.

"Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease" reunites Zanussi with Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, the star of "Camouflage" (1976), one of the director's finest films, in which Zapasiewicz played a brilliant and treacherous academic. This time he's a stocky, silver-haired, 60ish physician. A man with an icy taste for bitter irony, he confronts mortality and discovers within himself an unexpected spirituality and generosity while nonetheless meeting his fate on his own rigorous terms. Zapasiewicz is as compelling a presence as ever, and this contemplative film is one of Zanussi's best. Information: (818) 982-8827.

By coincidence, the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, is screening the late Wojciech Has' splendid "The Saragossa Manuscript," a landmark in the Polish cinema, Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m.

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Gustav Machaty, best known for "Ecstasy," the daring 1933 Czech film that launched the late Hedy Lamarr, was a director of tremendous sophistication, revealed in his films' worldliness and elegant settings. This is especially true of his 1929 silent "Erotikon," which the American Cinematheque presents Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Egyptian Theater, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., with a new score composed by Jan Klusak and with Stepan Komicek conducting the Prague FISYO Symphony Orchestra.

"Erotikon" is a remarkable collaboration between Machaty and cameraman Vaclav Vich, which features dramatically cropped images, many in close-up.

In its plot, "Erotikon" is a simple melodrama: A suave, confident foreigner, meticulously tailored and probably meant to be English (Olaf Fjord), seduces a naive country girl (Ita Rina). When they cross paths a few years later, the girl, now a chic woman happily married to a devoted, well-off man, finds herself still dangerously attracted to the seducer who brought her so much grief. Machaty is exceedingly honest about the power of sex.

"Ecstasy" screens Sunday at 5 p.m., followed by Machaty's "From Saturday to Sunday" (1931).

Information: (323) 466-FILM.

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The International Jewish Film Festival runs tonight through Nov. 16 at the Music Hall, with some films repeating at the Town Center, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. Following tonight's premiere of Alexandre Arcady's "K" at the Directors Guild, the fourth annual Sephardic Film Festival commences Sunday, also at the Music Hall. (Sephardic Film Festival information only: [310] 273-8567.)

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