Screens Armchair cinephile

Feed the world - and watch its movies

Just in time to fill the Live 8 vacuum, Warner has released 20 Years Ago Today, a single-disc compilation drawn from the four-disc Live Aid set they put out last year. It's only 52 minutes long, but a nice glimpse of vintage performances, and a handy reason to tour some of the movie world's less-visited corners.

Iraq: It may be a while before Iraq has enough spare time to become a hotbed for cinema. In the meantime, there's Gunner Palace (Palm Pictures), the excellent doc that offers a grunts'-eye view of the American occupation.

Iran and Africa: It's a two-for-one special for two regions that rarely creep into American cinemas, arthouse or otherwise. Celebrated Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami takes us to Uganda in ABC Africa (New Yorker), a documentary about AIDS orphans and civil war.

Africa and Haiti: Another outsider, Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck, goes to Africa for the HBO film Sometimes in Africa. The docudrama doesn't boast the heavyweight acting of Hotel Rwanda, but it presents an alternate picture of that tragedy. Meanwhile, the multi-culti-friendly American Jonathan Demme travels to Peck's turf for The Agronomist (New Line), a moving documentary about political radio personality Jean Dominique, who was Demme's friend for years before his assassination.

Hungary: Bela Tarr is one of the most critically acclaimed filmmakers to have practically no exposure in this part of the world. While we wait for a release of Tarr's magnum opus Sátántangó, we can explore his first three features: Family Nest, The Outsider, and The Prefab People (1977, 1979, and 1982, respectively) are all newly available thanks to Facets Video.

Russia: Years ago, no self-respecting cinephile would admit unfamiliarity with Russian cinema. Now it's hard to find one who's seen the classics. Thankfully, video companies are still paying attention to the masters - like Andrei Tarkovsky, whose diaristic documentary Voyage in Time is out on Facets. Or Aleksandr Sokurov (Russian Ark), who's represented by three recent titles: the documentaries Confession and Spiritual Voices (Facets again), and Moloch (Koch Lorber), which depicts a day in the life of Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun. If that's not enough Russia for you, spend eight hours with art-world treasures in Hermitage Masterpieces (Koch Vision), an 18-part series chronicling the same museum Sokurov explored in Russian Ark.

Mexico and Spain: There aren't a lot of companies distributing Mexican cinema in non-specialty stores, but one making the effort is Vanguard Cinema. Happily, the company is stretching beyond contemporary fare to release vintage films such as Un Gallo en Corral Ajeno, starring Jorge Negrete, and Dos Tipos de Cuidado, the only movie in which Negrete shared the screen with Pedro Infante. On the other side of the Spanish-language world, up-and-coming Spaniard Alex de la Iglesia is represented by the violently comic 800 Bullets on TLA Releasing's International Film Festival imprint and La Comunidad (Commonwealth) on Studio Latino. The latter stars the brilliant Carmen Maura, also seen in TLA's new The Promise.

Asia: Japan and China are well represented in the cinephilic world at the moment - which is no reason not to appreciate Criterion's brand-new double feature of the Seijun Suzuki films Story of a Prostitute and Gate of Flesh - but other Asian nations are just breaking through. Thailand's Pang Brothers are pushing hard on the horror front with the imaginatively named sequel The Eye 2 (Lions Gate). Getting beyond pure genre fare is Joint Security Area (Palm Pictures), which takes a humanist anti-war look at the conflict between North and South Korea - and was the debut feature by Chan-Wook Park, currently winning fans with his enthrallingly vicious Old Boy.

Australia: There's more to the land down under than Jane Campion and Crocodile Dundee. Like wacked-out stuff such as Bad Boy Bubby (Blue Underground), the film about a man raised in seclusion that has been called "Being There directed by David Lynch." Or filmmaker Gillian Armstrong, represented by two dissimilar early works released by Blue Underground. My Brilliant Career stars then-newcomers Judy Davis and Sam Neill in a period romance in which a wealthy man tries to tame an unconventional woman; Starstruck is a New Wave musical comedy featuring songs by Tim Finn and Phil Judd of Split Enz. If your musical taste is anything like mine, Starstruck might have you digging through 20 Years Ago Today and asking, "Hey - why the hell wasn't Split Enz at Live Aid?!"

John DeFore on DVD


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