Modern times

Distaff fest yields variations on a theme.


runs Jan. 25-31 at Harvard Exit

OFFERING 13 features plus 25 shorts and documentaries, the seventh annual Women in Cinema festival kicks off with The Safety of Objects (Jan. 24 gala at Cinerama), an ambitious look at the intertwining lives of four nice white suburban families that unsurprisingly turn out to harbor not very nice secrets. Glenn Close is believably stunned as a mother whose most intimate relationship is with her comatose son, who lies in his room symbolizing various things to various characters. Meanwhile, her teenage daughter (the lovely, round-faced Jessica Campbell) struggles with guilt about the night of the automobile accident that left her brother a vegetable. Elsewhere, a lawyer hides the fact that he's quit his job; the pool boy makes his innuendo-filled rounds; the kids smoke cigarettes and play doctor, etc.

The background humming of lawn mowers underscores some interesting montages, while a kid's obsession with his sister's doll is very funny. But Safety doesn't live up to its sweep; it fails to attain any depth and deploys a couple of cheap devices (saving the car wreck for the end, for one). The title sequence is damn cool, though.

"There are no rewards and no punishments; it's all just random," Close philosophizes, and Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (Jan. 25 and 29) would seem to agree: It also trots out a plethora of characters (here in N.Y.C.), who also end up connecting in pointedly unlikely ways in another overt exploration of the depressing nature of modern life. Intertitles offer pat concepts to ponder as the script bludgeons us with declarations on luck, happiness or the lack thereof, and fate. A strong cast, including John Turturro, Amy Irving, and Alan Arkin, does its best to get out from under the writing and the blatant symbolism, to only some avail. (It's downright weird that Safety and Thirteen have the same failings, including being two hours long.)

MORE SUCCESSFUL in getting at the depressing nature of modern life, Rain (Jan. 25 and 28) confines itself to one New Zealand family's drama at a '70s summer home. Janey (Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki) is infuriated and disgusted by her alcoholic mother (Sarah Peirse); in turn, her mother's slurred nostalgia about Janey's nascent womanhood cloaks self-loathing. Burning-hot unconstrained newcomer Cady (Marton Csokas) becomes the focal point.

Never have groovy parties with sitar music been rendered so subtly sinister; close-ups of lawn mower blades and falling cigarette ashes somehow spell doom. The acting is stellar, down to the impossibly cute little redheaded brother (Aaron Murphy), as Rain slowly unwinds toward the unavoidable, terrible punishment of both Janey's and her mother's sexuality and neglect.

Another festival standout, the Danish Italian for Beginners (Jan. 26 and 30) is a sweet-hearted and romantic Dogma comedy, charmingly acted in a bleak Copenhagen winter setting. (Italian opens Feb. 1 and will be reviewed next week.)

Short films are often a good bet (and if they're bad, at least they're short). WIC boasts two such programs, one themed "Flesh" (Jan. 27) and the other "Love" (Jan. 31). For historical value, there's a pristine print of the 1932 silent The Blue Light (Jan. 26) directed by and starring Germany's Leni Riefenstahl (who went on to helm Triumph of the Will). In this fairy tale, an outcast girl-hero discovers a bunch of magical blue crystals and is labeled a witch. (It doesn't sound like it could possibly be boring, but it is a silent film from 1932.)

Bark (Jan. 26), with Friends' talented Lisa Kudrow, has been selected for Sundance this year. If you're drawn to the obscure, there's a Russian documentary about salt called, well, Salt (Jan. 28).

See film calendar for further details (and a few nonfilm events), or call 464-5830, or visit

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