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*LITTLE BUDDHA Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci, known for films as different as ``Last Tango in Paris'' and ``The Last Emperor,'' directed this touching tale about Buddhism past and present. Based on real events, it begins when the parents of a young American boy are approached by Tibetan monks who believe he might be the reincarnation of a beloved leader from their religious community. Sympathetic to Buddhist tradition, although it's completely foreign to their own lives, the parents must decide whether to accept the monks' offer of raising and educating their son; as they ponder this, the movie makes frequent digressions to the historical tale of how Prince Siddartha pursued enlightenment and became the Buddha long ago. The historical episodes are told through bold images and sweeping gestures that are fully in accord with the movie's overall tone of childlike simplicity and transparency. While the modern segments are less convincing, they have an underlying sincerity that carries the tale to a thoughtful and life-affirming conclusion. Keanu Reeves's portrayal of Siddartha is less than inspired, and there are candid depictions of human suffering in his portion of the movie that could be troubling for some spectators. As a work of visual art, the film is deeply impressive, however, reconfirming Bertolucci and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro as brilliant choreographers of cinematic time and space. (Rated PG-13)

*THE CONVICTION The first portion of this Italian drama shows an explicit sexual encounter between a male architect and a female student in an empty museum; the second portion is a long examination of the politics of sexual coercion, much of it set in a courtroom where the woman is pressing rape charges against the man. Directed by the respected Marco Bellocchio, the movie is quite pretentious at times, and seems designed to provoke feminists with its sympathy for male aggressiveness. Its chief asset is a refusal to reduce the complexities of human sexuality to fashionable formulas and slogans. (Not rated)

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