Monthly Movie Guide

The following summaries of current, widely shown films are provided to help readers plan what to see. Inclusion of a movie does not imply Monitor endorsement. Further description is often supplied in articles on the arts-entertainment pages.

ARREST, THE -- In a weak echo of Kafka's masterpiece ''The Trial,'' a young man is seized, beaten, and questioned by the police about a conspiracy he's never heard of. A trivial treatment of a potentially important theme, undermined by unconvincing performances and a scenario that's just a string of poorly motivated outrages.

ATOMIC CAFE, THE -- A chilling, harrowing, sometimes hilarious compilation of military, educational, and propaganda footage from the 1940s and '50s, all designed to ''sell'' the newly discovered atomic bomb to the American public as painlessly as possible. A first-rate ''nostalgia'' film, in a grim sort of way; but the real meaning lies on deeper levels, as the material illustrates government, school, and military propaganda techniques and raises implicit questions about the roots of popular blindness to the real threat of nuclear war. Directed by Kevin Rafferty, Jayne Loader, and Pierce Rafferty.

BOB LE FLAMBEUR -- Directed in 1955 by the gifted Jean-Pierre Melville, this French ''film noir'' follows an aging hoodlum as he drifts through the underworld of Montmartre and tries to engineer one more big job. A minor work compared with a Melville masterpiece like ''Le Doulos,'' but interesting for its position between the dark Hollywood thrillers of the 1950s and the French ''new wave'' of the '60s.

CAT PEOPLE -- A young woman discovers that her family tree has supernatural roots in this erotic fantasy, which is punctuated by sexual innuendo and some lurid violence. The first half contains a number of effectively chilling moments; the later scenes are often flat. Directed by Paul Schrader. (Rated R for vulgar language and nudity.)

CHARIOTS OF FIRE -- Vigorous but rather scattered account of two gallant young runners in the 1924 Olympics, based on the real-life experiences of Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell. A British film directed by Hugh Hudson. Winner 1981 Academy Award for Best Picture.

CHOSEN, THE -- In a Jewish section of Brooklyn during the 1940s, a young man gradually grows away from his family's Hasidic way of life, and his father (a powerful rabbi) has trouble accepting the change. Contains the surface, but only bits and pieces of the substance, of the fine Chaim Potok novel on which it is based. Directed by Jeremy Paul Kagan.

CHRISTIANE F. -- Extraordinarily graphic account of a teen-age girl's descent into a nightmare of drugs and prostitution, with no hint of romanticizing or glamorizing its grim subject matter. A cautionary, sometimes disgusting drama from West Germany, directed by Erlich Edel.

DAS BOOT -- Except for a number of scatological details and vulgar words, this is an old-fashioned action movie about a German submarine during World War II. As everyone knows, there isn't much you can do in a submarine picture, but this one contains all the venerable conventions of the genre, from the emergency dive to the obligatory close-ups of the water-pressure gauge. A film from West Germany, directed by Wolfgang Petersen.

DEATHTRAP -- Virtually nothing is as it seems in Sidney Lumet's comedy thriller about a successful playwright, his high-strung wife, and his eager protege. Based on the Broadway hit by Ira Levin, with a reconstructed ending that doesn't trail off into sheer silliness as the stage version does. (Rated PG for vulgar language, occasional violence, and a homosexual element in the story line.)

DINER -- The preoccupation with sex and some of the hijinks recall the brash vulgarity of ''Animal House,'' but as a whole this is the most mature treatment so far of the 1950s ''nostalgia'' theme, and the most accurate in its facts and feelings. The action centers on a group of young men in their early 20s who hang around an eatery and wonder what it'll be like when (and if) they finally grow up. Directed by Barry Levinson. (Rated R; contains vulgar language and situations.)

DIVA -- Fast and furious thriller about a young music fan who secretly records a performance by his favorite prima donna, a gaggle of cops and robbers who think his tape holds criminal evidence, and some crazed capitalists who will stop at nothing to get their hands on the real opera recording. Directed by French newcomer Jean-Claude Beineix with lots of style, it avoids sensationalism except for a little nudity and some violence near the end.

E. T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL -- Lost on the planet Earth, a friendly spaceman becomes the secret pal of a little boy, who can't believe his own good fortune. A grade-school version of ''Close Encounters of the Third Kind,'' directed by Steven Spielberg with lots of wit in the first half, but too much artificial emotion in the long climax, which leads to a resolution right out of ''Peter Pan.'' (Rated PG; contains a little vulgar language and a sci-fi medical sequence.)

GARDE A VUE -- Faced with a grisly crime, the assault and murder of some young girls, a policeman spends a long night questioning the prime suspect, running into some big surprises about whodunit and why. Directed by French filmmaker Claude Miller, who shares Alfred Hitchcock's fascination with the ambiguous appearances of guilt and innocence and with the technical challenges of building a ''one-set'' drama. The title is a French term for preventive detention.

GENOCIDE -- Documentary about the extermination of millions of Jews and others by Nazi Germany. Overproduced, but devastatingly effective. Directed by Arnold Schwartzman for the Simon Wiesenthal Center at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles, a Holocaust study center and museum.

LONG GOOD FRIDAY, THE -- A cheap hood dreams of becoming a glamorous gangster in this occasionally witty, but nastily violent, melodrama with racist overtones.

MARIANNE AND JULIANE -- Fascinating drama about two sisters trying desperately to understand each other despite their very different attitudes toward social commitment. The action focuses on a period when one of them (a revolutionary) is in prison, but also includes flashbacks to their childhood and adolescent years. The flow of the film is a bit choppy at times, but it has been crisply and thoughtfully made by West German filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta, who poignantly explores the interface between politics and personality.

MEADOW, THE -- Compassion and sincerity help compensate for uneven style and lack of unity in this ambitious Italian drama about a Milanese man who rediscovers his roots in rural Tuscany and gets involved in a triangular love affair with a conscientious young woman and her boyfriend. Directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, who don't quite manage to recreate the resonances of their earlier ''Padre, Padrone.''

MEPHISTO -- In pre-Nazi Germany an ambitious actor compromises with his culture and his conscience for the sake of success, then finds himself a reluctant but hopelessly entangled ally of the new Hitler regime. While the filmmaking by Istvan Szabo is rather slack at times, the most effective scenes add up to a lavishly filmed, energetically acted drama charged with moral and intellectual suspense. Though it contains moments of perverse sexuality, reflecting the protagonist's perverse personality, the movie is less lurid (and seems somewhat less contrived) than the original novel by Klaus Mann, which was itself based on a true case history.

MISSING -- An American businessman searches for his mysteriously vanished son after a coup in a Latin American country and comes to suspect United States complicity in the grim events that surround him. A splendidly filmed and deeply moving human drama, though it has aroused controversy with its opinionated version of occurrences clearly based on events in Chile after the overthrow of Salvador Allende Gossens. Directed by Costa-Gavras. (Rated PG for a few vulgar words and a couple of scenes depicting the aftermath of violence.)

MY DINNER WITH ANDRE -- Playing themselves, two real-life theater personalities -- Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn -- have a two-hour dinner and talk about everything from mystical experiences to electric blankets. An amazingly engaging and funny experience, though more like a jazz improvisation than an ordinary movie. Directed by the unpredictable Louis Malle.

ON GOLDEN POND -- Very sentimental but often very funny story about a retired professor facing old age, his wife's loving concern, the delayed maturity of their grown-up daughter, and a foul-mouthed teen-ager who comes to stay with them and precipitates a very contrived resolution. Directed by Mark Rydell, with an excellent performance by Henry Fonda and good ones by Katharine Hepburn and Jane Fonda. (Contains vulgar language.)

PASSIONE D'AMORE -- A mix of melodrama, romanticism, and absurdism, about a young 19th-century officer who finds himself zealously pursued by a woman who is the exact opposite of his ideal. Artfully directed by Ettore Scole. (Contains occasional sex scenes between the hero and a secondary character.)

PERSONAL BEST -- Two young athletes establish a lesbian relationship, then compete with each other for a berth on the United States Olympics team. An opportunistic film, ranging from voyeuristic sex to gushy athletic scenes in schmaltzy slow motion. Written and directed by Robert Towne.

QUEST FOR FIRE -- Prehistoric cave people battle for survival. Sweepingly filmed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, with dialogue in an invented pre-Indo-European language. (Rated R for explicit sexual behavior and violence.)

RICHARD PRYOR LIVE ON THE SUNSET STRIP -- Filmed comedy routine touching on everything from prisons and sex to Pryor's own injury in an explosion and fire. (Rated R for constant, sometimes extremely vulgar language.)

SLAP IN THE FACE, A -- Minor but engaging Soviet comedy-drama (in the Armenian language) about a boy growing up in a backward turn-of-the-century town. Directed by Henrik Malyan.

SMASH PALACE -- A blue-collar ''Shoot the Moon,'' about a man who goes berserk after his wife takes up with a close friend, leaving their little daughter caught in the middle. Promising at first, but increasingly chaotic and distasteful. Directed by Roger Donaldson, who needs a sense of control to match his technical skills.

SOLDIER GIRLS -- Entertaining, instructive, harrowing, and very funny documentary about three young women going through basic training in the United States Army. Directed by Nicholas Broomfield and Joan Churchill. (Contains some vulgar language and the on-screen slaughter of a chicken.)

TOO FAR TO GO -- Movie adaptation (originally made for TV) of John Updike's stories about the Maples, a likable couple whose marriage gradually and gently dissolves, to their own quiet bewilderment. Though the best Updike touches are missing, the basic emotions of the stories come through clearly and effectively. Directed by Fielder Cook.

UNFINISHED PIECE FOR A PLAYER PIANO, AN -- Leisurely, likable, deeply Chekhovian drama about life and love among a group of quirky Russians gathered for a summer's day and evening on estate of a friend. Based on a minor Chekhov play. Directed by Soviet filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov.

VICTOR/VICTORIA -- Julie Andrews plays an aspiring singer who finds an unusual gimmick for success on the nightclub circuit in Paris during the '30s: pretending to be a man impersonating a woman. Rated PG for some vulgar language and the homosexuality of a character played by Robert Preston, which leads to some irritating humor. But basically an old-fashioned farce, with many variations on well-tested comedy routines. Written and directed by Blake Edwards.

WASN'T THAT A TIME! -- Friendly documentary about the celebrated folk-music quartet known as the Weavers, centering on their preparations for a reunion concert at Carnegie Hall.

WEEK'S VACATION, A -- A young schoolteacher, at the end of her tether, takes a week off and confronts a number of personal problems. Not as heavy as it sounds, but not exactly gripping either. A film from France, smoothely and even fetchingly directed by Bertrand Tavernier. (Contains brief nudity.)

WHO SHALL LIVE AND WHO SHALL DIE -- Straightforward documentary charging that deliberate political calculation brought about Allied failure to rescue the Jewish victims of Nazism during World War II. Directed by Laurence Jarvick.

WRONG IS RIGHT -- Messy attempt at a ''Dr. Strangelove'' for the '80s, blending comedy and adventure with a complicated plot about a TV newsman, an ineffectual president of the United States, and an evil arms dealer who wants to auction off a pair of atomic bombs. Written and directed by Richard Brooks. (Rated R; contains some violence and rough language.)

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