Schizoid Celluloid II

Crackers
This maddeningly erratic Australian comedy sometimes comes across as the mutant offspring of The Karate Kid and There's Something About Mary, which is not necessarily a good thing. It features a protege-mentor relationship between a troubled adolescent and his strange but wise great-grandfather, but it also goes for the jugular in terms of gross-out humor. Abundant gags involving flatulence and dog excrement are featured, for example, as well as a scene in which a pet ends up on the grill. (Don't ask.) The context for this frequently forced zaniness is a Christmas gathering that brings together four generations of a contentious Aussie clan. Despite the broadness of the material, there are some inspired funny bits here and there, and the cast does a surprisingly good job of enlivening characters that are essentially two-dimensional. (Monday, November 9, 9:15 p.m., Coral Ridge 10; Tuesday, November 10, 5 p.m., Coral Ridge 10; Sunday, November 14, 4:45 p.m., Coral Ridge 10; 92 minutes)

Elles
An unlikely but highly effective ensemble of international talent saves this French melodrama from slipping into soap opera. At the beginning we see a TV journalist (Spain's Carmen Maura) researching a story on aging women and their wishes by interviewing four friends on camera: a college literature professor (Miou-Miou of France), a beauty salon owner (American actress Marisa Berenson), a singer and stage star (Guesch Patti, also French), and a caterer (Swiss-born Marthe Keller). The film then backs up a few days to show the events in these intertwined lives that lead the women to make their very different wishes. Portuguese director and cowriter Luis Galv‹o Teles deftly manipulates the movie's handful of overlapping stories, and he accommodates the material's shifting moods and emotional currents with amazing skill. (He's like a less self-indulgent Henry Jaglom). The five leads are flawless, and their work is complemented by two strong male performances -- Joaquim de Almeida as Maura's on-again, off-again lover, and the young Frenchman Morgan Perez as Keller's 19-year-old son, who falls in love with Miou-Miou. Despite all the angst along the way, the happy ending feels genuinely earned. (Saturday, November 7, 5:30 p.m., Bill Cosford Cinema; Tuesday, November 10, 7:15 p.m., Coral Ridge 10; 115 minutes; in French with English subtitles)

L'Ecole de la Chair (The School of Flesh)
Your reaction to this steamy French adaptation of Japanese writer Yukio Mishima's novel of obsessive passion will likely hinge on your feelings about its star, French actress Isabelle Huppert. Like her American counterpart, Meryl Streep, Huppert is sometimes criticized for the icy perfection of her performances, and she can be, as the French like to say, formidable. Here, however, her hauteur gives way to a surprisingly emotional turn as a well-to-do single woman who embarks on a volatile relationship with a mysterious, much younger man (Vincent Martinez). The two have little in common but hot sex, in which the sullen, self-absorbed young man continues to engage with other women and men, and yet Huppert can't seem to shake her desperate attachment to him. Vincent Lindon has a handful of good scenes as a flamboyantly effeminate gay man who befriends Huppert, and Marthe Keller turns up in a small but pivotal part. Beautifully shot in a wide-screen format by director Beno”t Jacquot. (Tuesday, November 10, 5:15 p.m., Coral Ridge 10; Thursday, November 12, 7:15 p.m., Coral Ridge 10; 102 minutes; in French with English subtitles)

Claudine's Return
Until it collapses into half-baked metaphysics in its final third or so -- just as the previously enigmatic title begins to make sense -- this quirky little melodrama offers some nicely observed moments and a pair of admirably understated performances. The mostly no-nonsense work of Christina Applegate, formerly of TV's Married... With Children, will probably get all the attention, but the most finely shaded performance is that of the quietly intense Italian actor Stefano Dionisi, who had the title role in 1994's Farinelli. She plays a laundry woman at a motel on an island off the coast of Georgia who also moonlights as a stripper. He's a drifter who becomes the motel's handyman and her lover. Antonio Tibaldi's direction has some of the grittiness and well-absorbed local color of Victor Nunez's Ruby in Paradise, which was featured in the festival a few years ago. Too bad the out-of-left-field finale undermines so much of what precedes it. With a pointless, blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo by Valerie Perrine. (Closing Night -- Saturday, November 14, 5:15 and 7:15 p.m., Coral Ridge 10; 90 minutes)

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