Week one

Thurs/20

Perhaps Love (Peter Ho-Sun Chan, Hong Kong, 2005). The pan in pan-Asian here stands for panic: This meta–love story within a metamusical tries to please everyone and runs with damn near everything, except sparkly red shoes, and fails at almost all it attempts. Hong Kong director Peter Ho-Sun Chan (Comrades: Almost a Love Story) oversees players like Chinese actress Zhou Xun (Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress), Takeshi Kaneshiro (House of Flying Daggers), Bollywood choreographer Farah Khan, and cocinematographer Christopher Doyle, but is he really to blame? Only Kaneshiro manages to project a glimmer of real emotion in this pointless East-kowtows-to-West, torture-by-style exercise, glaringly poisoned by contempo-musicals like Chicago and Moulin Rouge. 7 p.m., Castro (Kimberly Chun)

Fri/21

Sa-kwa (Kang Yi-kwan, South Korea, 2005). In Oasis and A Good Lawyer’s Wife, Moon So-ri took on emotionally and physically daring roles, playing characters who flouted convention. She confirms her rep in Sa-kwa as a woman torn between a boyfriend who drops her while they are at a great height (a gesture she repays) and a husband who treats her like an acquisition. Director Kang Yi-kwan keeps the handheld camera up in Moon’s face, and she more than delivers, though the symbiosis between director and performer doesn’t quite match that between Lee Yoon-ki and Kim Ji-su in 2004’s less conventional This Charming Girl. 4:45 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 1, 8:45 p.m., Kabuki; and May 4, 4:30 p.m., Kabuki (Johnny Ray Huston)

Sat/22

*Circles of Confusion (various). This vaguely defined and stylistically varied program of shorts contains at least one first-rate local work, Cathy Begien’s Relative Distance, which expertly mines the humor and pain within family ties through a direct-address approach. There is absolutely no doubt which of the 10 movies here is the virtuoso mindblower: a strobing, percussive blast from start to finish — even if it stutters, stops, and restarts like a machine possessed by a wild spirit — Peter Tscherkassky’s Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine takes The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and makes it better, badder, and so ugly it’s gorgeous. 3:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also Mon/24, 4:15 p.m. Kabuki (Huston)

*Factotum (Bent Hamer, Norway, 2005). Unfortunately titled but cleverly plotted, director Bent Hamer’s paean to Charles Bukowski revels in the boozy textures of the author’s work. The movie’s meandering vignettes draw from various novels, which makes sense since old Chuck’s work can fairly be said to comprise one sprawling, bawdy picaresque. Matt Dillon is fine as the author’s fictionalized self, but Lili Taylor makes it — she uses her throaty whisper to excellent effect as the antihero’s sometimes lover. Beyond the performances, Factotum gives pause to the way Bukowski’s episodic, prose-poetry narration style has influenced indie cinema conventions, especially of the sort practiced by screenwriter Jim Stark’s longtime collaborator, Jim Jarmusch. 9 p.m., Kabuki. Also April 30, 3 p.m., Kabuki (Max Goldberg)

The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai (Mitsuru Meike, Japan, 2004). A hooker who titillates clients by acting like a naughty teacher winds down her workday with a froofy coffee drink. Suddenly, a pair of baddies exchange gunfire right in the middle of the café. Though she’s pegged between the eyes, the lass somehow survives; in short order, she’s humped by a cop, demonstrates Will Hunting–<\d>style math prowess, and quotes Descartes. So what’s up with that weird little object she’s got rattling around in her enormous handbag? This pink film’s weirdly unflattering sex scenes raise a different question: So who cares? 11:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also Tues/25, 1:15 p.m., Kabuki (Cheryl Eddy)

*Heart of the Game (Ward Serrill, USA, 2005). "Sink your teeth in their necks! Draw blood!" That’s no vampire, just Bill Relser, the tax professor turned girls’ basketball coach, rallying his team. Documentary filmmaker Ward Serrill clearly absorbed the lesson, grabbing us by the necks with his extraordinary saga of the Roosevelt High Roughriders. Over six seasons the team wins and loses, soaring to unimaginable victories and crashing into heartbreak. Serrill pays close attention, on court and off, and ultimately delivers a smartly paced chronicle that nails the socialization of girls, the costs of playing ball, and the perils of female adolescence. The spectacular basketball is an added bonus. Hoop Dreams, move over! Noon, Castro. Also Tues/25, 4 p.m., Kabuki (B. Ruby Rich)

In Bed (Mat??as Bize, Chile/Germany, 2005). Over the course of a single night, strangers Daniela (Blanca Lewin) and Bruno (Gonzalo Valenzuela) reveal themselves to one another in guarded conversation and periodic bouts of lovemaking. Director Mat??as Bize and writer Julio Rojas have trouble stirring up enough genuinely surprising (or moving) drama to break down the fourth wall of this dual portrait; unlike the similar but superior Before Sunrise, In Bed never transcends its own dramatic construct. 9:15 p.m., Castro. Also Mon/24, 3:15 p.m., Kabuki (Goldberg)

*Le Petit Lieutenant (Xavier Beauvois, France, 2005). Skinned of pop songs and even a score, decorated in grays and blues, and populated by more realistic gendarmes than one is likely to see outside le station, this clear-eyed, no-merde look at the career of an eager, recent police academy graduate (Jalil Lespert), his fellow cops, and his tough but vulnerable recovering alcoholic of a chief investigator (Nathalie Baye) is less a policier than an anthropologically minded character study. A student of Baye’s Detective commandant Jean-Luc Godard as well as Spielberg and Tarantino, director Xavier Beauvois mixes an almost clinical attention to detail with a genuine warmth for his characters and has a knack for tackling the knotty racial dynamics in today’s Paris. 3:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also Tues/25, 6:45 p.m., Kabuki; and April 26, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki (Chun)

*The Life I Want (Giuseppe Piccioni, Italy, 2005). Here is the engrossing meta–<\d>love story that fest opener Perhaps Love wants, or rather needs — though that film’s clumsy kitsch pageantry would have completely spoiled this refreshingly mature romance, which delicately references both Camille and Day for Night, Visconti and Laura Antonelli. At a screen test, all-too-established actor Stefano (Luigi Lo Cascio) is drawn in by the tremulous magnetism and churning emotions of the troubled, unknown actress Laura (Sandra Ceccarelli). Director Giuseppe Piccioni brings an elegant, hothouse intensity to the on-again, off-again, on-again tryst while speaking eloquently about the actor’s life, the hazards of the Method, and the pitfalls of professional jealousy — and giving both actors, particularly the impressive Ceccarelli, a layered mise-en-scène with which to work. 9:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also Mon/24, 8:30 p.m., Kabuki; April 27, 6 p.m., Kabuki; and April 30, 7 p.m., Aquarius (Chun)

Perpetual Motion (Ning Ying, China, 2005). Ning Ying explores the changes Western-style capitalism has brought to Chinese society in a gathering of four privileged, affluent, fictional ladies — played by some of the real-life republic’s best-known media personalities and businesswomen. They’ve assembled for tea at the posh home of Niuniu (Hung Huang), who’s got a hidden agenda — she’s invited these "friends" over to figure out which one is secretly boinking her husband. There’s some interesting political-cultural commentary around the edges here. But it’s disappointing that a female director would do what Ning soon does, reducing her characters to campy, bitch-quipping, weeping-inside gorgons in a pocket-sized variation on hoary catfight classic The Women. 6:45 p.m., Kabuki. Also Mon/24, 9:25 p.m., PFA; April 26, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki; and May 1, 9:30 p.m., Aquarius (Harvey)

*Taking Father Home (Ying Liang, China, 2005). In Ying Liang’s engrossing debut, urban decay and an impending flood follow protagonist Xu Yun (Xu Yun) around every turn of his doomed search for his absent father. The film — shot on video without the funding, or the approval, of the Chinese government — takes a no-frills approach, its only indulgences being Ying’s dark, quirky humor and obvious love of the long shot. Much of his action unfolds from afar, allowing the countryside and industrial wasteland of the Sichuan province to create a surprisingly rich atmosphere for this simple, effective story. 1:30 p.m., PFA. Also April 30, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki; and May 3, 6:15 p.m., Kabuki (Jonathan L. Knapp)

*Turnabout (Hal Roach, USA, 1940). Each convinced they’re on the low end of a marital totem pole, Carole Landis and John Hubbard say some hasty words in front of a Hindu deity’s statue. Voila! Husband and wife find themselves swapping bodies. This Freaky Friday precursor was a risqué surprise in the censorious climate of 1940 Hollywood and for that reason was denounced by the Catholic Legion of Decency as "dangerous to morality, wholesome concepts of human relationships, and the dignity of man." Why? ’Cause the guy acts femme and the girl acts butch, that’s why. Directed by comedy veteran Hal Roach, this seldom revived curiosity is too hit-and-miss to rate as a neglected classic, but it’s vintage fun nonetheless. 3 p.m., Castro. Also Sun/23, 6:15 p.m., PFA (Harvey)

*Workingman’s Death (Michael Glawogger, Austria/Germany, 2005). This five(-and-a-half)-chapter documentary examines manual labor of the most backbreaking variety: Ukrainian coal miners scraping out a dangerous living; Indonesian sulfur miners pausing from their toxic-looking quarry to pose for tourist cameras; Pakistani workers philosophically approaching the task of tearing apart an oil tanker ("Of course, this is a shitty job, but even so we get along well"); and, in the film’s most graphic segment, Nigerian butchers slogging through an open-air slaughterhouse. A Chinese factory and a factory-turned-park in Germany are also on the tour. Without narration, the film places emphasis on its images, which are often surprisingly striking. 3:45 p.m., PFA. Also April 30, 9 p.m., Kabuki; and May 4, 5:30 p.m., Kabuki (Eddy)

Sun/23

All about Love (Daniel Yu, Hong Kong, 2005). If you’ve got the fever for the flavor of Andy Lau, you can’t miss this melodrama, with the HK hunk in two roles: the clean-shaven doctor grieving over his dead wife, and the goateed fashion designer who realizes his true feelings after abandoning his sick wife, a heart-transplant patient. That the story lines intersect, bringing forth slo-mo shots of breaking glass and dripping tears, should surprise no one; Lau, of course, emerges as swoon-worthy as ever. 4:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also April 26, 5:15 p.m., Kabuki (Eddy)

*The Eagle (Clarence Brown, USA, 1927). Originally released in 1925, The Eagle is a spry star-vehicle for heartthrob Rudolph Valentino (that name!). Despite being set in decidedly unsexy 18th-century Russia, Valentino prances through as Vladimir, a dashing Cossack guard who disguises himself as the Black Eagle (as well as a French tutor) to exact justice upon a plundering landlord. In the process he finds romance with that same landlord’s daughter (Vilma Banky) and trouble with Russia’s queen (played with Garbo cool by Louise Dresser). The Alloy Orchestra performs a new score for this classic adventure story. 7 p.m., Castro (Goldberg)

*Live ’n’ Learn (various). You’ll find two excellent Bay Area–<\d>made movies in this program of short works. Tracing a heart-wrenching path away from — and yet toward — the stabbing at the end of Gimme Shelter, Sam Green’s painfully perceptive tribute to Meredith Hunter, Lot 63, Grave C is one of the best films at this year’s festival, period. The brightness of the cinematography in Natalija Vekic’s Lost and Found is as unique as its object-obsessed dive into memories of one Schwinn banana-seat summer — any kinks in the dialogue or narrative are trumped by the atmospheric potency of the visuals. 1 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 2, 1:30 p.m., Kabuki (Huston)
*Waiting (Rashid Masharawi, Palestine/France, 2005). A burnt-out Palestinian film director, an ex–TV journalist returned from abroad, and an unworldly local cameraman set out to audition actors at refugee camps in Gaza, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon on behalf of the National Palestinian Theatre (which promises, with relentless optimism, to open soon). "How can we really make films in this situation?" the director asks — a serious question when military occupation, dispossession, closed borders, broken families, and deferred dreams confront the impulses of human hearts and an art form premised on action. Filmmaker Rashid Masharawi (himself born in Gaza’s Shati camp) doesn’t always avoid staginess, but his acute sense of irony and his generous lens — opening onto a landscape of ordinary Palestinian faces — manage a persuasive emotional and thematic complexity. 3:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also Tues/25, 4 p.m., Kabuki (Robert Avila)

Mon/24

House of Himiko (Isshin Inudo, Japan, 2005). Young Saori (Kou Shibasaki) can’t afford to pass up a part-time job at a private old-age home. But she doesn’t have to like it: The residents are all gay men, and they include the father (Min Tanaka) whose abandonment long ago left Saori a grudge-keeping homophobe. But her prejudices eventually melt amid these aging queens’ wacky and poignant antics. This is the kind of movie that does soften up mainstream audiences’ attitudes, if only because it panders to them so carefully — the ol’ ’mos here are all cuddly, harmless, and postsexual, despite their occasional trash talk. For more sophisticated viewers, the cutesy stereotypes and maudlin moments may outweigh director Isshin Inudo’s good intentions and passages of low-key charm. 6:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also April 27, 5:45 p.m., Castro (Harvey)

*Runners High (Justine Jacob and Alex da Silva, USA, 2006). Inspirational sports movies are hard to beat, and this doc about Students Run Oakland, a group that trains high schoolers for the Los Angeles marathon, is particularly potent. Rough neighborhoods, unstable home lives, and plain old out-of-shapeness provide obstacles for the dedicated kids profiled here, but the training benefits nearly all who stick with it. "If you can accomplish a marathon, you can accomplish anything" would be a clichéd thing for a coach to say in a narrative film; in the context of this doc, the words feel truly sincere. 7 p.m., Kabuki. Also April 27, 10 a.m., Kabuki; April 29, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki; and May 2, 8:30 p.m., El Rio (Eddy)

Tues/25

Looking for Madonna (John de Rantau, Indonesia, 2005). Part potboiler romance, part quirky street-level character study, and part gritty message-movie about the fears that continue to surround HIV/AIDS — Looking for Madonna plays it multiple ways. In this, the gangly, freewheeling, and well-meaning feature debut of Indonesian director John de Rantau, Madonna is a pop star singing, "Don’t Cry for Me, Indonesia," as well as a local prostitute prized for her fair skin. The Virgin Mother, however, is nowhere to be found — although AIDS-infected Papua teen Joseph tries his best to reach a state of grace, aided by his cheeky, bawdy chum Minus. 7:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also April 29, 12:45 p.m., Kabuki (Chun)

*News from Afar (Ricardo Benet, Mexico, 2005). Just as Carlos Reygadas’s Japon gave viewers ample time to contemplate its maker’s talent and ponder his pretense, so does Ricardo Benet’s first feature as it turns a man’s relationship to landscape into an existential equation. When that landscape is as broke as a nameless saltpeter town or as forbidding as Mexico City, can it be anything else? Whether Benet will follow this movie with something as sublime and ridiculous as Reygadas’s Battle in Heaven is unclear, but there is no doubt that he is talented, and that News from Afar can slap a drowsy viewer upside the head with the full weight of fate gone bad. 7 p.m., PFA. Also April 29, 6 p.m., Kabuki; and May 2, 3 p.m., Kabuki (Huston)