Festward Ho!

Makhmalbaf presents these events in crisp flashback with Gabbeh acting as voice-over narrator, returning only intermittently, and briefly, to Gabbeh and the old couple in the present. But he unspools his film not as a linear narrative but rather as a magic-realist fable, adroitly intercutting closeups of gabbehs being woven by the women of Gabbeh's family with important events in their peripatetic lives: marriage (the uncle's), death (one of Gabbeh's younger sisters), birth (of a lamb, of a child), escape (Gabbeh and her howling-wolf horseman paramour). And he consistently assaults the eye with brilliant colors, which burst from clothing, from fields of flowers used to make dyes for gabbehs, from the gabbehs themselves, from skies, sun, the various landscapes, and, in some amazingly evocative surrealistic moments, from various pure colors that coat the hands of the uncle. At one point the few speaking characters -- Gabbeh, the uncle, a chorus of children -- proclaim consecutively, in verselike fashion, "Life is color, love is color, man is color, woman is color, child is color," before Gabbeh intercedes with an anguished "Love is pain."

Makhmalbaf has created a simple, gorgeous, filmic tone poem that resonates with magic and metaphor while unsentimentally celebrating the essential components of life, love, and art. Rich and rewarding and visually stunning.

Perhaps once a decade -- sometimes less frequently -- an oldster romance wends its way to the nation's movie screens, supplanting, if only for a nanosecond, the cavorting and cooing of the young and the restless and the pulchritudinous. Tracy and Hepburn. Hepburn and Fonda. Tandy and Cronyn. Nicholson and MacLaine (reprising their Terms of Endearment roles in The Evening Star, though neither seems ready for permanent consignment to the cinematic Geritol gulag). This year's fest includes a new entry in the December-December genre, the occasionally charming but relentlessly saccharine Argentinean soaper Sol de Otono (Autumn Sun) (Sunday at 4:30 p.m.).

Tasteful fabric-store accountant Clara Goldstein (Norma Aleandro) meets distinguished-looking, if somewhat less outwardly tasteful, picture framer Raul Ferraro (Federico Luppi) for tea in a tasteful restaurant after she places a tasteful romance classified in a Buenos Aires newspaper. She has a pet turtle, watches Bogart movies on TV, and rehearses for a bit part in a stage musical; he has a doddering old dog and makes nice with Wilson, the grandson of his buddy Palomino. Anyway, her ad specifies she wants a Jewish man, so he shows up for their initial meeting as "Saul Levin." She sees through his pretense immediately and gives him the gate. Of course, she's running a ruse, too, interested only in finding someone suitable to act out the role of "Jack Kleinman," the Jewish boyfriend she has invented in order to put on a dog-and-pony show for her snoopy brother Jaime, who's due to visit from Boston in a month; Clara doesn't want romance, just a warm, older-male Jewish body. With the clock ticking and no prospective Jack materializing, she contacts Raul in the hope that he'll agree to play the role despite the fact that he isn't Jewish. Nice guy that he is, he says okay. She offers money. He declines. She relents and proposes to pay him a small fee if they successfully fool Jaime. He says, "Aw, shucks."

You know the rest. As she gives him a crash course in Jewish customs and food and Yiddish phrases, he falls for her. She takes him to a temple and a cemetery, then shows him old snapshots of her family; he embraces her and plants a big wet one on her mouth. He wants to be more than her pretend boyfriend; she remains cordial but insists they stick to their deal. Well, at least on the surface she does, because writer-director Eduardo Mignogna shoehorns in a couple of mini fantasy sequences wherein Clara casts Raul as her knight in shining armor, just in case you haven't noticed that beneath that cool exterior she really loves him, too.

Along the way Mignogna also tosses in a gratuitous subplot about Palomino's wayward street-punk older grandson Nelson, introduces an eleventh-hour big-ticket disease, and saddles the perfect Clara with a car that breaks down every other day (that's a funny part, by the way). He also bathes everything in sepia tones, in the unlikely event you've forgotten that his film pertains to two folks in their later years. Brown clothes. Brown car. Brown furniture. Brown exteriors. Brown interiors. Not forgetting the tinkly piano music that swells up at appropriately poignant moments. And he relies on the threadbare device of an out-of-nowhere voice-over intro and outro -- in this case a radio-show host spouting Hallmark philosophy ("There are no winners or losers in this town -- just survivors") -- to bookend his film, in an effort to thwack you over the head with his "theme."

Yes, it's nice to see two older folks falling in love on-screen, but Sol de Otono will scorch the cockles of your heart so much that you may sustain a third-degree burn.

In its blurb for La Promesse (Saturday at 4:30 p.m.), the unremittingly gritty story of a fifteen-year-old boy caught between divided loyalties, the Film Society of Miami coyly alludes to Francois Truffaut's 1959 The 400 Blows, which also featured a confused boy as its protagonist. But La Promesse, written, directed, and edited by Belgian brother filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, looks and feels much less like French new wave cinema than like the powerful, fatalistic neorealist films of postwar Italy, notably Vittorio De Sica's The Bicycle Thief and, especially, Roberto Rossellini's Germany Year Zero.

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