The Reel Deal

With films from fourteen countries, the Miami Film Festival features a volatile mix of love, lust, and crime

Flashy direction and quality ensemble acting only carry you so far. Sugar Hill looks sweet but has no nutritional value whatsoever.

Written and directed by Patrice Leconte; with Philippe Noiret, Richard Bohringer, and Thierry Lhermitte. Screens Friday, February 11, at 10:00 p.m.

Only the French would attempt to get away with a movie like this. Philippe Noiret, Richard Bohringer, and Thierry Lhermitte are Franaois, Vincent, and Paul respectively, three men on a mission -- to kill Paul's wife. Franaois is a powerful judge and a lifelong bachelor who uses some case files he deliberately suppressed to blackmail Vincent, who murdered his unfaithful wife and her lover but was miraculously acquitted in Franaois's courtroom. The judge's nephew Paul has problems of his own: His wife Marie has just walked out on him because she got fed up with Paul's philandering. At his nephew's behest, Franaois -- acting in a most unjudicial manner -- insists that Vincent kill Marie or the judge will produce the suppressed files and reopen Vincent's case.

Granted, the premise is paper thin, but, well, it's French. They see things differently over there. Marie didn't do anything wrong, but that's beside the point. Paul can't enjoy being single knowing that she left him, so she has to die. The three hit the road in search of Marie, and so begins one of the darkest, funniest buddy pictures since Bertrand Blier's Going Places. Noiret and Bohringer are masterful, Lhermitte holds his own, and director Patrice Leconte (Monsieur Hire) keeps it all moving at a pleasant clip.

Franaois Truffaut:
Stolen Portraits
Written and directed by Serge Toubiana and Michel Pascal. Screens Saturday, February 12, at 2:00 p.m.

The quintessential French auteur is profiled in this affectionate but even-handed documentary. Composed primarily of talking-heads interviews with the director's surviving colleagues and family, this one could have been titled "For Truffaut Lovers Only." Depardieu, Ardant, Aurel, Bazin, Rohmer, Chabrol, Ophuls A if you recognize these names you'll enjoy Stolen Portraits. If you don't recognize them, rent The 400 Blows or The Woman Next Door first.

Written by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani and Sandro Petraglia; directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani; with Michael Vartan, Galatea Ranzi, and Claudio Bigagli. Screens Saturday, February 12, at 4:30 p.m.

"A hundred rinses cannot wash away these kinds of stains," warns Duilio, eighteenth-century patriarch of the Benedetti ("the blessed") clan in the rolling hills of Tuscany. He's a poor farmer speaking to his fellow villagers in the town square, where a French lieutenant named Jean will be executed at dawn unless a chest of gold coins that was stolen from the Frenchman's command is returned overnight. Unbeknownst to Duilio, his own son Corrado stole the gold that afternoon while the younger Benedetti's sister Elisabetta was making love to Jean in a nearby meadow. When Duilio finds out that his son committed the robbery and that his daughter surrendered her maidenhood to the lieutenant, the patriarch's decision not to return the treasure results in Jean's death. Elisabetta, pregnant with Jean's baby, swears revenge on the thief, unaware of her family's complicity in the crime. She dies during childbirth, the first victim of a curse that will dog the Benedetti family for two centuries, causing fellow villagers to mockingly refer to them as the Maledettis ("the cursed").

Fiorile, the latest release from the Tavianis, the Italian brother team responsible for Padre Padrone and the exquisite Night of the Shooting Stars, is a romantic fable spanning several generations. By Taviani standards, the film is average. But even second-tier Taviani is superior to the best efforts of most filmmakers. The spectacular panoramas of lush Italian countryside, long a Taviani trademark, are as gorgeous as ever, the acting is solid, and the story, while occasionally confusing, is diverting. The film is no Jean de Florette, but it's no Falcon Crest, either.

Written by Henry Jaglom and Victoria Foyt; directed by Henry Jaglom; with Eric Roberts and Victoria Foyt. Screens Saturday, February 12, at 7:00 p.m.

This film is to women and their biological clocks what Jaglom's 1991 film Eating was to women and their relationships with food. Jaglom sends his protagonist, thirtyish Gena (covwriter Victoria Foyt), to a baby shower and basically just lets the camera run as the women in attendance discuss the options available when that tick, tick, ticking grows into a roar.

The Cronos Device
Written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro; with Federico Luppi and Ron Perlman. Screens Saturday, February 12, at 10:00 p.m.

A little new blood works wonders for the tired old vampire film in this gothic tale about a sixteenth-century alchemist's invention that turns up in an antique shop in modern-day Mexico City. The cronos device, as it's called, has the power to bestow upon its owner both eternal life and a thirst for human blood. The fun starts when an aging millionaire reads the alchemist's original diary and dispatches his greedy nephew to steal the device from the antique shop proprietor.

As superbly crafted as the coveted gizmo itself, The Cronos Device succeeds by adding a few inventive twists to an overworked genre. Partly in English, partly in Spanish, this Mexican delight is that country's entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 1993 Academy Awards.

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