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International Film Fest Draws Fans To Seattle

As luck would have it, Seattle was full of sunshine and warm weather last weekend.

But those movie fans attending the opening few days of the 21st International Film Festival didn’t seem to care.

More correctly, they didn’t seem to notice, immersed as they were in the dark as images of films from all over the world flickered across three movie screens.

Beginning today, the festival opens up two more theaters and offers 75 different showings to choose from through Monday. Among the highlights:

“To Die For” (at the Egyptian Theatre 9:30 p.m. tonight and 3:30 p.m. Sunday) - Gus Van Sant (“Drugstore Cowboy,” “My Own Private Idaho”) directed this little satire on a movie-of-the-week theme about a woman (Nicole Kidman) who hires her teen lover and friends to kill her husband.

“Funny Bones” (at the Harvard Exit Theatre 9:30 tonight and 12:30 p.m. Sunday) - Oliver Platt stars as an unfunny comic who, after bombing in Las Vegas, decides to go back to his English roots to discover the source of humor. Feature role: Jerry Lewis portrays his father.

“Chinatown” (At the Harvard Exit 12:30 p.m. Saturday) - This free screening of 1974 Oscar-winning classic is part of the festival’s celebration of 100 years of cinema. Directed by Roman Polanski, it features Jack Nicholson as a two-bit private eye investigating murder and water rights in 1940s Los Angeles.

“Little Odessa” (At the Harvard Exit 9:15 p.m. Saturday and at the Varsity 6:30 p.m. Monday) - Tim Roth (“Reservoir Dogs,” “Rob Roy”) stars as a hitman who returns to his New York borough home.

“I Am Cuba” (At the Egyptian 6:30 p.m. Sunday) - Russian filmmaker Mikhail Kalatozov revives his 1964 documentary of revolutionary Cuba.

“Sister, My Sister” (at the Harvard Exit 9:15 p.m. Sunday) - This strange tale, based on a true case, involves two sisters who end up killing the family for whom they work as maids.

To order tickets by phone, call (206) 325-6150. Evening screenings are $7, while matinees (before 6 p.m.) and midnight movies are $5. Only Visa and MasterCard orders are accepted, and all phone orders include a $1 handling charge per order.

Opening weekend highlights:

“Braveheart,” which opened this year’s festival on May 18, pulled in a full house at the Fifth Ave. Theatre. Director-star Mel Gibson gave a brief speech, and then he - along with festival director Darryl Macdonald - sighed with relief as projectionists avoided the problems that marred last year’s opening-night showing of “Little Buddha.”

“Jupiter’s Wife” is documentary filmmaker Michel Negroponte’s poignant look at a New York homeless woman. Beginning with the woman’s introduction as a wandering resident of Central Park, the film follows two years of her life and seeks to answer such basic questions as: Who is she (the wife of Jupiter? the daughter of Robert Ryan? an exCentral Park horse-drawn cab driver?) and how did she end up like this?

The film becomes less a solution to her problems as it is a study of the lengths one woman will go to in order to handle the awful pain that life throws at those who are incapable of coping in a “normal” manner.

“Smoke,” directed by Wayne Wang from a script by cult novelist Paul Auster, is centered in a Brooklyn cigar shop run by Augie Wren (Harvey Keitel). Augie’s shop attracts the neighborhood characters, from the resident anguished novelist (William Hurt) to the young black man the writer befriends (Harold Perrineau Jr.) to Augie’s ex-girl (Stockard Channing).

The writing is sharp and weighty without being maudlin or cheap, and director Wang mostly just has to get out of the way. But the real joy is the acting. It’s nice to see Hurt working again, and Keitel just keeps pumping out one amazing performance after another.

A sequel, of sorts, to “Smoke” is “Blue in the Face,” a combination documentary on Brooklyn and improvised exercise set in Augie’s store. Besides several “Smoke” stars, including Keitel and Giancarlo Esposito, it boasts appearances by Michael J. Fox, Lily Tomlin and Roseanne among others.

“Burnt By the Sun” won the Oscar in March for Best Foreign Language film. Directed by Russian director Mikhail Mikhalkov (“Close to Eden”), it portrays the paranoia and dangerous atmosphere of 1930s Russia through the experiences of a famous Soviet colonel and his adopted family. Slow in a Checkhovian sense, it features a shattering climax.

“Picture Bride” tells the story of those Japanese women who, in the early 1920s, came to Hawaii as mail-order brides. Directed on a small budget, it features amazing cinematography by Claudio Rocha and the affecting stories of dispossessed women.

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