Films at forum explore social themes from many angles

The Allison Anders drama 'Things Behind the Sun' explores cultural attitudes toward male aggression.

Movies shown at the Lake Placid (N.Y.) Film Forum illustrated how many different ways the idea of social responsibility can be worked out on the screen.

One of the most talked-about offerings was Allison Anders's drama Things Behind the Sun, which takes a highly personal approach. Anders herself was a rape victim years ago, and in this movie she uses a fictionalized version of her experience to explore cultural attitudes toward sexuality and male aggression.

Kim Dickens plays the main character, a young rock singer who's never gotten over the shock of being sexually assaulted. Gabriel Mann plays a music journalist who decides to help her after realizing who was responsible for this nightmare, and Don Cheadle plays a sympathetic male friend who shelters and comforts her. Eric Stoltz and Rosanna Arquette round out the cast.

"Things Behind the Sun" was criticized by some Lake Placid viewers for twisting its painfully personal subject matter into the shape of a standard Hollywood screenplay, and that charge does carry some weight.

But there is clear emotional power in Anders's sincere desire to communicate hard truths, and her filmmaking style is restrained and expressive compared with her debut movie, "Gas Food Lodging," which made her one of the most applauded directors on the independent-production scene a decade ago. Her new picture should find a wide audience when it arrives in commercial theaters later this year.

A different kind of social responsibility runs through Lumumba, directed by Raoul Peck, a former Haitian minister of culture as well as an experienced filmmaker. It tells the story of Patrice Lumumba, who led the Belgian Congo out of its colonial status despite American hostility and rivalries within his own ranks. Eriq Ebouaney gives the title role an imposing dignity, but the movie would be better if it explored Lumumba's innovative ideas as well as the dramatic events of his meteoric political life.

Don't judge Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease by its title, since this thoughtful Polish drama has less to do with sexuality than with the efforts of its main character - a physician diagnosed with a grave illness - to look beyond material things and grasp the reality of a greater spiritual dimension. This slow, sensitive drama was directed by Krzysztof Zanussi, one of Poland's most respected screen artists.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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