The Reel Deal

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

Il grande cocomero
(The Great Pumpkin)
Written and directed by Francesca Archibugi; with Alessia Fugardi and Sergio Castellitto. Screens Sunday, February 13, at 2:00 p.m.

Italy's official entry in the 1993 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film is this poignant drama about a young girl named Pippi who suffers from epileptic seizures. She becomes the patient of a lonely, overworked psychiatrist because the neurology ward of the state-run hospital where he works is overcrowded and he's the only doctor there who's willing to help Pippi when her mother drops her off. The shrink, Arturo, treats Pippi with unconventional therapy and gets unconventional -- but positive -- results. Like last year's Il ladro di bambini, the film derives much of its strength from the haunting performances of its youthful cast, led by Alessia Fugardi as twelve-year-old Pippi.

Based loosely on the real-life story of neuro-psychiatrist Marco Lombardo Radice, who influenced the Italian medical community in the Seventies and Eighties by advocating psychotherapy over drug-based treatments, writer-director Francesca Archibugi's film has a lot to say -- about the rigidness of conventional medicine, the ineffectiveness of government institutions, and the impact of family turmoil on a child's emotional development. Put simply, it's haunting, heart-wrenching, and unforgettable.

Squadron
Written and directed by Juliusz Machulski. Screens Sunday, February 13, at 4:30 p.m.

Juliusz Machulski's story of a squadron of Russian dragoons sent to pacify the Polish National Insurrection plays like a well-made U.S. Civil War epic. And well it should: the Insurrection took place at the same time Union troops and Confederate soldiers were spilling each other's blood over here. All the familiar war-movie themes are sensitively illuminated: the nature of honor and loyalty, the frequent conflicts between morality and duty, the insanity of war, the cruelty of fate. Machulski's film breaks little new ground, but it's a powerhouse nonetheless and deserves the honor of being chosen to represent Poland in the Best Foreign Language Film category at this year's Academy Awards.

Kika
Written and directed by Pedro Almod centsvar; with Veronica Forque, Peter Coyote, and Victoria Abril. Screens Sunday, February 13, at 7:00 p.m.

Almod centsvar is back, and he's as loony, as tasteless, as controversial, and as irreverent as ever. Kika (Veronica Forque)is a chatty, ditzy, hyperoptimistic makeup artist who will not let anything bring her down (not even being raped). Ram centsn (Alex Casanovas) is her uncommunicative lover. Nicholas (Peter Coyote) is a homicidal expatriate American, as well as Ram centsn's stepfather and Kika's occasional lover. Andrea (Victoria Abril) is the ruthless TV reporter who once loved Ram centsn and now prowls the deteriorating streets of Madrid in a bizarre futuristic uniform (designed by Gaultier) whose distinguishing feature is a revolving camera mounted atop a helmet. Expect the usual Almod centsvar traits: machine gun pacing, zany antics, stylized sets and costumes, and scintillating dialogue that loses some of its zing in the translation to subtitles.

So there you have it. Twenty-five films and one live presentation over ten days. Director Trueba told me that one of the things he likes most about the Miami Film Festival is that there aren't any prizes, so I've come up with a few awards and predictions of my own that I don't think will violate the spirit of non-competition:

Biggest surprise: Four Weddings and a Funeral
Biggest disappointment: Desperate Remedies
Most fun: BackBeat
Least fun: The November Men
Hottest ticket: Kika
Coldest ticket: Betrayal
Sleeper A don't miss: Il grande cocomero (The Great Pumpkin)
Sleep through: Sugar Hill
Stock up on the Visine now.

All films will be screened at the Gusman Center for Performing Arts, 174 E. Flagler St., Miami. The general public can buy tickets at the Gusman box office, 372-0925; members of the Film Society of Miami can call 377-2138.

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