The American Cinema Foundation's annual Freedom Festival 2002, which runs through Tuesday at the Goethe Institute and the Monica 4-Plex, opens tonight with an invitational gala at the Directors Guild with the 8 p.m. screening of "The Condemnation of Franciszek Klos," the latest work from Poland's great senior director Andrzej Wajda. For 45 years, Wajda has returned time and again to World War II as inspiration for some of his finest films, and this adaptation of the Stanislaw Rembek novel is no exception.
Intense, intimate, terse and relentless, the film opens with small-town police officer Klos (Miroslaw Baka) gunning down a member of the Polish Resistance, which results in a letter from the underground organization condemning him to death. Klos is cursed by being a coward with a conscience who tries to drown guilt and now fear with moonshine and vodka. He tries to appease his brutal German occupying superiors while drunkenly asserting his own authority over his neighbors and shooting down Jews whenever he comes across them trying to hide themselves. Yet he craves redemption and absolution, though perhaps not as much as an identification card granting him all-important German citizenship.
As Klos comes apart, his community's elders, who spend their days in the local tavern, serve as a Greek chorus commenting on the playing out of his fate--and thereby of Poland itself. Andrzej succeeds in eliciting pity for the weakling Klos, who is portrayed by Baka in a thoroughly harrowing fashion. At 75, Wajda remains ever-vigorous and provocative, his talent immediate and fresh.
Idolya Fekete's "Chico" (Friday at 9:30 p.m. at the Monica 4-Plex) is a complex, challenging, epic-scale story, dryly satirical yet poignant, about a steadfast Communist, Ricardo (Eduardo Rozsa Flores), a Bolivian of Hungarian Jewish and Spanish descent, whose father was a radical artist and playwright and mother a wealthy aristocrat, which resulted in a peripatetic youth and career as a war correspondent. He eventually turns mercenary, and his moment of truth arrives in the Central European conflicts that began in 1989. Much to his dismay, Ricardo discovers an emptiness with the victorious emergence of Croatia, for he sees no more wars to fight that engage his Communist sympathies. "Chico" has tremendous scope, a sense of being in the thick of battle and an absurdist tone that points up the eternality of human folly.
Among other films screening are Murad Ibragimbekov's satirical "True Stories," done in the style of early talkies, and Gyula Gazdag's surreal 1974 "Singing on the Treadmill." Ibragimbekov and Gazdag, a longtime UCLA film school professor, will attend the screenings of their films. (310) 286-9420.
Following the Friday 7 p.m. screening of "Juana La Loca," which was unavailable for preview and which opens the American Cinematheque's annual "Recent Spanish Cinema" series, "Fausto 5.0" screens at 10 p.m. A boldly surreal updating of the Faust legend, it stars Miguel Angel Sola as a middle-aged cancer specialist who attends a medical convention only to cross paths with a persistent, overly familiar stranger (Eduardo Fernandez), who insists the doctor performed a life-saving operation on him eight years earlier. As obnoxious as the stranger is, he manages to insert himself into the standoffish surgeon's life, for after all he is Satan, who leads the workaholic doctor astray with classic temptations of the flesh. "Fausto 5.0," which marks an audacious screen debut for the renowned Catalan Fura dels Baus acting troupe, is a triumph of dazzling, eerie style with some horror film flourishes and a delightfully confounding finish.
Saturday's programming begins at 5 p.m. with Fernando Trueba's 1980 debut feature, "Opera Prima," the eternal boy-meets-girl tale fleshed out so imaginatively and so stylishly that it becomes uniquely quirky and delightful. Bigas Luna's 1999 "Volaverunt" investigates the mysterious death of tempestuous duchess of Alba, immortalized by Goya's La Maja Vestida and the infamous Maja Desnuda. What's important here is how Luna views the courtiers of King Carlos IV. He is at once amused and awed by the audacity of their incessant sexual and political intrigues yet reveals the tremendous toll that could be exacted of those who lived lives of self-indulgent splendor. He suggests that the duchess (Altana Sanchez-Gijon), emotionally drained by her arduous love life and political intrigues, might well have poisoned herself.