YOUNG PEOPLE IN KEY ROLES

Movies from new filmmakers around the world are featuring the challenges faced by young people. One example included in the New Directors/New Films festival at the Museum of Modern Art here is ``Celia.'' The heroine of this Australian drama is a nine-year-old girl caught in complicated circumstances during the 1950s, ranging from political conflict (the next-door neighbors are communists) to family conflicts. There's also a provocative indication that childhood ``innocence'' isn't all it's cracked up to be. The film was directed by newcomer Ann Turner, who succeeds remarkably well at weaving the story's many ingredients into an eloquent cinematic web.

The hero of ``China, My Sorrow'' is a 13-year-old Chinese boy who finds himself in a ``reeducation'' camp during the Cultural Revolution. There he witnesses the results of ideology taken to bizarre extremes and gets involved with a varied assortment of fellow prisoners. Directed by Chinese-born filmmaker Dai Sijie with a cast of Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking performers, this French/West German coproduction is conventional but engaging.

``Maicol'' is named after the young son of a single mother whose attention is too often claimed by her self-absorbed lover. Directed by Italian filmmaker Mario Brenta, it uses enormous restraint in telling its sad story, which is stronger on atmosphere than on plot or suspense. Ditto for ``The Seventh Continent,'' which is Michael Haneke's obsessively detailed, harrowing tale of alienation and aggression in what seems to be an ordinary West German family. ``Plainlands,'' one of the festival's two Finnish films, also focuses on a family. The grandfather has emigrated to the United States, and, when his progeny meet to settle his estate, their macho instincts and wartime memories are dangerously aroused.

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