Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, Part 2

Nonsensical scheduling aside, this year's FLIFF offers some winning dramas and documentaries

Merci pour le Chocolat (Nightcap)

The icy hauteur of Isabelle Huppert -- France's answer to Meryl Streep -- is perfect for this vaguely Hitchcockian thriller from veteran French director Claude Chabrol. Huppert and Chabrol have worked together on several other pictures, including an oddball 1991 adaptation of Madame Bovary, and he seems to know instinctively how to capitalize on her peculiar charms. Here she portrays a Swiss chocolate heiress who, after a hiatus of several years, remarries her ex-husband, a legendary pianist played by the laconic Jacques Dutronc. A major story strand involves the question of whether the pianist's son from another marriage and a family friend's daughter, who were born on the same day, were inadvertently switched at birth. The question is ultimately a red herring, but it sends the movie off on all sorts of tantalizing tangents. Chabrol's touch here is that of a confident master -- this is his 53rd film -- who works wonders with the subtlest of innuendoes. The English title, incidentally, alludes to the hot chocolate the Huppert character prepares nightly for her stepson; a more literal translation of the French title would be "Thanks for the Chocolate." (Sunday, November 3, 1:30 p.m., Riverfront; Tuesday, November 5, 1:20 p.m., Riverfront; 99 minutes; in French with English subtitles)

P.S. Your Cat Is Dead

Actor Steve Guttenberg is his own worst enemy in his adaptation of the beloved novel and play by James Kirkwood (A Chorus Line). In his directorial debut, Guttenberg acquits himself admirably, and he takes only modest liberties in his screen treatment of the material. His big mistake is in casting himself in the lead, as a struggling actor whose one-man show has just closed, whose girlfriend has just dumped him, and whose apartment has been burglarized twice (the sole manuscript of his novel was a casualty). Oh, yeah -- he finds out along the way that his hospitalized cat is a goner. Guttenberg's performance alternates between hangdog resignation and over-the-top anger, reconfirming critic David Denby's memorable dismissal of him as "Howdy Doody with muscles." The movie comes to life with the reappearance of the gay Hispanic burglar (Lombardo Boyar, in an irresistibly lewd performance), who's promptly tied to the kitchen counter and then engaged in an ongoing dialogue that's easily the best thing about the picture. (Saturday, November 2, 5:20 p.m.; Riverfront; Sunday, November 3, 3:30 p.m., Riverfront; 90 minutes)

Triggermen

The spirit of Quentin Tarantino circa Pulp Fiction hovers insistently over this thriller, which is competently made but far too derivative. Adrian Dunbar (the lead terrorist in The Crying Game) and Neil Morrissey (Men Behaving Badly)are two inept, small-time British crooks who find themselves in the middle of a scheme involving the hitmen of the title (Donnie Wahlberg and Michael Rapaport) and a big-time criminal (the ever-reliable Pete Postlethwaite). Think mistaken identity multiplied again and again and again. Despite appealing performances and occasional flashes of wit -- a character describes someone as looking "like an old gypsy woman, like Bob Dylan looks these days" -- the movie is pretty much hollow at the core. By the time Amanda Plummer, as Dunbar's lover, turns up in America, there's nothing left to salvage. (Saturday, November 2, 7:30 p.m., Riverfront; Sunday, November 3, 3:20 and 7:20 p.m., Riverfront; 96 minutes)

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