A weekly update of film releases

* SANKOFA - A contemporary African-American woman revisits the days of slavery in a nightmarish dramatization of what is surely the darkest, most unconscionable nightmare in the annals of United States history. This modestly produced, unremittingly passionate film was directed by Haile Gerima, a deeply committed veteran of American independent cinema. (Not rated)

* THE SATIN SLIPPER - At about seven hours long, Manoel de Oliveira's epic study of love, faith, idealism, and opportunism in 16th-century Europe is one of the most challenging movies to arrive in many years. Its demands are justified, however, by the visual and intellectual rewards it offers. Adapted from a play written by French dramatist Paul Claudel in the early 1920s, the story begins when a Spanish conquistador falls in love with a governor's wife. She is equally enamored of him, but takes a vow to leave their affair unconsummated. She's motivated partly by religious faith and partly by a conviction that physical love would sully an otherwise pure and uplifting passion. The film then chronicles the careers of both main characters, with special attention to the conquistador's involvement with explorations and colonial adventures of his age. Like other works by de Oliveira, the most brilliant and adventurous figure in Portuguese cinema today, the movie is extremely stylized. It's foregrounded with his view of private life and historical experience as types of performance in which individuals are always playing roles determined by the times and places in which they live. While the poetic language seems arch and florid at times, the performers deliver it gracefully, and de Oliveira surrounds their oratory with an array of costumes, objects, and painted backdrops that are as exquisite as they are artificial. The film is also a meditation on Renaissance innovations in pictorial art, and on cinema as a latter-day inheritor of these. Filmed in France in the mid-1980s, and released by MGM. (Not rated)

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