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On the Lam in Mexico

Two women flee in 'Without Leaving a Trace' as the Latino International Film Festival continues.

July 26, 2001|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Maria Novaro's "Without Leaving a Trace," as assured an audience-pleaser as her "Danzon" was a decade ago, screens at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Egyptian's Lloyd E. Rigler Theater in the continuing Latino International Film Festival.

Novaro deftly pairs two different but similarly audacious young women on the lam from Ciudad Juarez to Cancun; throughout the journey the women are followed by a red car with shaded windows. Each woman has reason to suspect she is being followed, but they have no way of knowing which one.

Aitan Sanchez-Gijon is the sophisticated, well-educated Ana; Tiare Scanda is Aurelia, a high school dropout and sweatshop worker determined to provide a better life for her infant sons. During their adventure-filled trip, these two shrewd, saucy women discover they have much in common, and their journey allows Novaro to make some sharp, funny commentary about contemporary Mexico from a woman's point of view.

In Jesus Nebot and Julia Montejo's "No Turning Back" (Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Vogue), one of the most high-profile films in the festival, the power and timeliness of the film's themes outweigh the unevenness in its making. Nebot stars as an illegal immigrant, a professor of English in Honduras who's lost his wife in a hurricane, and who's determined to make a better life for his daughter (a precocious Chelsea Rendon) in the U.S. Against heavy odds he's just beginning to get a foothold when a cruel accident drives home the full implications of the professor's plight.

Nebot, who's appeared in top TV series, gives a focused, impassioned portrayal, holding the film together and giving it impact and meaning. The festival continues through Sunday at the Egypt-ian (6712 Hollywood Blvd.) and the Vogue (6675 Hollywood Blvd.). (323) 469-9066.

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The fourth annual Dances With Films independent film festival continues through Monday at the Lot (formerly Warner Bros. Hollywood), 1041 N. Formosa Ave., West Hollywood.

Among films in competition that were available for preview, several defy watching and a couple are barely OK. But "Shadow Glories" (tonight at 7:15) is a powerful and distinctive commentary on the addictiveness of violence that its star and writer, Marc Sandler, spent 20 years struggling to get made. The film has a contemplative quality and Sandler has been fortunate in his choice of director, Ziad H. Hamzeh, whose work is controlled and expressive, and in the film's setting, the old mill town of Lewiston, Maine. The superior camera work by Kurt Brabbee contributes strongly to making "Shadow Glories" a mature, accomplished work.

Sandler stars as Simon Penn, a burly, middle-aged, onetime champion kick-boxer whose obsession with the sport nearly ruined him. Now he's started a martial arts class to teach youngsters how to fight so they never have to. He's in partnership with a forceful young woman, C.J. (Safrah Rachel Isenberg), and is beginning to try to win back his wife (Linda Amendola). At the same time, C.J. becomes increasingly determined to take on local boy Eddie "Killer" Kuzinski (Michael Denney), the kick-boxing champ whom Simon, who barely lived to tell the story, faced down in the ring. "Shadow Glories" is strong, stylish and uncompromising with portrayals of depth and impact, especially by Sandler and Isenberg.

Robert Saitzyk's "After the Flood" (Friday at 9:30 p.m.) is a bleak and pretentious study of a disintegrating gun dealer (Shawn Andrews) trying to survive in the streets and yearning for spiritual redemption. Saitzyk, though, directs with an expressive, driving force.

Writer-director Joe Furey also stars in "Love and Support" (Saturday at 9:30 p.m.), a slight but decently made road comedy. Furey plays an employee of a telephone answering service who's dumped by his girlfriend and winds up on a wild ride with a guy who's not merely a free spirit but dangerously reckless.

Writer-director Mark Richardson also stars in his "In the Eye of the Storm" (Saturday at 2:45 p.m.) as a New York playwright who's lost his backing and is forced to seek help from his rich but terminally ill grandmother in Florida, only to be trapped with her in her home during a hurricane.

"Storm" swiftly becomes a dreary soap opera.

Among the shorts screening at 5 p.m. Sunday is the sly and witty "Room Tone," written and directed by Charlie McClellan, the visual effects producer of the upcoming "Lord of the Rings." Jed Brophy stars as an uptight interior decorator from Wellington, New Zealand, whose new cell phone system would seem to be splitting his personality in half. (323) 850-2929.

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The American Cinematheque's "The Wild Outlaw Eye: A Tribute to Donald Cammell" concludes Wednesday with "The Wild Eye" (1995), which screens after the 7:30 p.m. screening of "White of the Eye" (1987).

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