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Young filmmakers refuse to play it safe

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Their heroes appear to be experimental types like Paul Thomas Anderson, of "Magnolia" and "Boogie Nights" fame, and Quentin Tarantino, whose "Pulp Fiction" and "Kill Bill" epics take wild risks with cinematic time, space, and logic.

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"I * Huckabees" is a good example. It has several major characters: a corporate yuppie, a thoughtful firefighter, three "existential detectives," and an environmentalist who's mystified by coincidences involving an African man he keeps running into.

The film weaves them into a story that requires close attention, lest one misunderstand key story points - such as why Dustin Hoffman's face occasionally morphs into a sort of Rubik's Cube floating freely in the air.

With moneymakers like "Flirting With Disaster" and "Three Kings" under his belt, Russell can attract A-list talents like Mr. Hoffman and Lily Tomlin, who play the detectives, and Jude Law, who portrays the yuppie. What's drawn attention to "I * Huckabees" is less its cast, however, than its off-the-wall ideas, many of them more offbeat than most major studios would want to back. Its main American distributor is Fox Searchlight Pictures, a "specialty" outfit.

"Primer" is a fantasy so intricate that it puzzles its own writer, director, and star, as I reported from the Toronto festival, where Carruth admitted his own uncertainties after a screening greeted with both cheering and head-scratching.

Moviegoers may not understand its tale of two time-machine inventors who can't figure out the details of their own gizmo. Carruth is banking on the notion that you'll enjoy the attempt, though - and so is ThinkFilm, the kind of distributor that Miramax used to be, hunting for unusual fare to serve moviegoers who've decided thinking about a movie can be as enjoyable as watching it.

"Tarnation," a sort of glorified home movie by a sort of dysfunctional genius, is an outpouring of Caouette's autobiography as captured in footage of himself, his family, and his friends.

It raises the longstanding ethical question of where to draw the line when revealing private moments - a line that many documentaries, from last year's "Capturing the Friedmans" to the 1975 classic "Grey Gardens," have been accused of transgressing. But cinematically, "Tarnation" is so flat-out unprecedented that even skeptics have been impressed.

One is Internet reviewer Gabriel Shanks, who slammed it as a "bloated ... arthouse version of a reality show," yet called it a "fascinating" movie all the same.

Love it or hate it, you must admit there's nothing else like it, and that puts Caouette squarely in the risk-taking vanguard. "Tarnation" is onscreen thanks to Wellspring, the company that brought us such unprecedented fare as Steven Soderbergh's bizarre "Schizopolis" and the Russian masterpiece "Russian Ark," among many others.

All the movies I've mentioned take more than their share of chances. And there are films just as daring now waiting in the wings: Todd Solondz's controversial "Palindromes," which uses multiple actresses to play the part of a badly confused adolescent, and Lodge Kerrigan's intense "Keane," which dissects the psyche of a grieving father.

These movies don't have distributors yet, but the high reputations of both directors - established by "Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "Clean, Shaven" respectively - mean they're likely to be in theaters soon.

If so, the adventures of adventurous filmmaking will continue.