Conflicts of class, outer space in film festival offerings


April 10, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

Fasten your seat belts! The Japanese are back at the Baltimore Film Festival tonight with two showings of "Marcross II: Lovers Again," a cosmically mind-blowing animated extravaganza that will be shown at 7 p.m. and again at 9:45 p.m. at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

What was "Marcross I"? I have no idea. What is "Marcross II: Lovers Again" about? Again, I have no idea. It's one of those high-tech, mega-colorful accounts of space wars against alien species, some sort of man-cat with whiskers and vivid facial tattoos called Zentradi. I know this: It's got a princess named Ishtar in it.

The film, which is brand new and quite long (over two hours), was directed by Kenichi Yatazai and has been dubbed into English, except when Zentradi is spoken. I think it's safe to say that somebody saw "Star Wars," and I'll bet his name is Yatazai. In fact, "Marcross II" looks a little like the entire six hours of the "Star Wars" trilogy played on fast forward; it's full of huge space machines, galaxies of them consumed in battle, exploding in majestic napalm flowerings.

If only the Japanese could animate people! But nearly to a man, the figures in "Marcross II" are wooden and stilted. It's also interesting that in their heart of hearts, the Japanese still see the space opera as a Western form: all the characters in "Marcross," including the aliens, are conceived of as primarily Western. They have blond hair, blue eyes and little stub noses.

All manner of mythic scaffolding can be laid against the dense plotting in "Marcross II," but I haven't the time and you probably haven't the interest: Let's just leave it at this -- for mind-blowing, goo-goo-eyed, state-of-the-art animation, this is your baby.

At 7 p.m. tomorrow, the festival is screening the superb "Get Thee Out!" which might be called a "Fiddler on the Roof" without either music, Mostel or sentimentality. This harsh Russian film re-creates, in exquisite microcosm, the end of shtetl culture in Russia. What's so unique about the production is that it's shot entirely in sepia or very mild tones, so it has the strong sense of being recalled from an album of old and fading photographs.

This is no Anatevka: it's a dusty, smelly little blot by the side of the road in rural Russia (the Ukraine, actually) where gentile and Jew have gotten along primarily because they're mired in the same unending muck of poverty. But Motl, one of the leading Jews in town, somehow secures a Czarist license to become a trader, thereby vastly improving his financial situation in town. But in so doing, he unleashes forces that will result in pogrom.

Otar Mengvinetukutsesy plays Motl; it's a great, deep, complex performance, as all of Motl's emotions are brought to bear on the desperate ambivalence of his position. He probably doesn't even want to be Jewish; he never asked for it. But slowly rage and hatred overcomes the situation until he must confront his own Jewishness and his response to oppression.

The movie ends on a gesture of futile heroism that is all the more powerful for going undramatized. It's a brilliant film.

All screenings are at the BMA. Call the BFF at (410) 889-1993.

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