The 24th Annual Baltimore Film Festival gets under way April 1, for a month of screenings of those hard-to-find, out-of-the-way films that somehow never seem to reach Baltimore any other way. But the festival seems to have made an effort to go a bit mainstream this year, with fewer of those Uzbek folk operas -- you know, about the eternal triangle between the Mongol, the girl and the pony, set on the endless steppes -- and commit to an itinerary that might be considered just a tiny bit more mainstream.
Over its month-long run, the festival will show 26 features from 17 countries -- yes, fans of the Golden Horde, Mongolia is represented -- including two Oscar nominees, the winner of the Grand Prix du Jury at the Cannes Film Festival last year, and, most important, a big violent Japanese cartoon. Can this be heaven or is it only Baltimore?
The festival, which nestles into the four weekends of April, opens at the Senator with the prize-winning Italian entry, "Il Ladro Di Bambini" ("The Stolen Children"), which won the grand prize at Cannes last year and has been nominated this year for an Academy Award for foreign film. Directed by Gianni Amelio, it's the story of a young policeman who is assigned to take two children to an orphanage in Southern Italy. Of course he can't bring himself to do that, and instead begins a trek across Italy with the kids. The stars are Enrico Lo Verso, Valentina Scalici and Guiseppe Ieracitano. The evening begins at 7:30 with a champagne and dessert gala, with the movie beginning at 8 p.m.
On Friday, April 2, the festival moves to its permanent headquarters, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and falls into its normal rhythm, with one screening at 7 p.m. and another at 9 p.m.
The early screening is a Dutch film set in the Caribbean, called "Ava & Gabriel, A Love Story From the Caribbean." It follows as a love affair between a Dutch painter and his mixed-blood model exposes the intrigue and hypocrisies of colonialism. The late show is "Alberto Express," directed by Arthur Joffe, an American film in French and Italian with subtitles. It's about a young man who, upon reaching 21, is presented with a bill for each and every cost his parents have incurred in raising him.
On Saturday, April 3, the 7 p.m. show is from Mongolia, and it's been nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign film, too. It's called "Close to Eden," and it's about a young shepherd who is taken to a city by a friendly Russian truck driver, with dire consequences. The director is Nikita Mikhalkov.
Hal Hartley, the superb independent American film director, is represented in the late show by "Simple Men," starring his long-time favorite, Robert Burke. In this one, Burke plays a younger brother trying to confront the meaning of his father's life. Hartley is one of the best American independents, so this is a title that shouldn't be missed.
On Sunday, April 4, the early show brings a little-seen documentary from the great Jonathan Demme -- yes, "The Silence of the Lambs" guy -- called "Cousin Bobby." It's the story of Demme's own blood relative, a fiery activist Episcopal minister in Harlem.
The next weekend of screenings begins Thursday, April 8, with "Rock Hudson's Home Movies," another in the recent surge of in-your-face gay movies like "Swoon." This one is a retrospective of the late hunk actor's life, considered from the gay perspective. Mark Rappaport directed. The 9 p.m. show is also gay-themed: "Together Alone," directed by P. J. Castelleneta, is about two young men who, after a sexual encounter, talk for nearly 90 minutes about a number of provocative topics.
On Friday, April 9, the 7 p.m. show is "La Discrete," a French film directed by Christian Vincent. Set in the 17th century, it's about a "Discreet," that is, a woman with a taffeta beauty spot on her chin who is seduced by a Casanova type. Or is she doing the seducing? The film won three French Oscars (called Cesars) in 1990 -- best actor, best script and best new actress. The late show is from that spooky Canadian, Atom Egoyan, and it's called "The Adjuster." Egoyan is a sort of David Cronenberg who hasn't gone Hollywood; this film, his latest, is about an insurance adjuster (Elias Koteas, a De Niro look-alike) who takes over his client's lives.
On Saturday, April 10, thank God, the early show is "Macross II: Lovers Again," a 2 1/2 -hour-long Japanese feature cartoon. It's about alien invaders identified as renegade Zentradi -- yes, more of those -- who assault the Super-Dimensional Fortress Macross. The director is Kenichi Yatazai. It's dubbed into English. Then, at 9:45 p.m., it will be shown again! You could buy two tickets and see it twice!
The Sunday, April 11, screening is "Get Thee Out!" a Russian-Jewish film set in turn-of-the-century Ukraine, which should be called the Russian "Fiddler on the Roof." It's