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Sets Appeal

Eye-popping Metropolis among latest CFS offerings

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While such pictures as Birth of a Nation and The Gold Rush vie for the honor of the most famous silent picture ever made, it's probably safe to say that, with the possible exception of Battleship Potemkin, Fritz Lang's 1927 Metropolis ( out of four) ranks as the most famous foreign silent film to still come up in conversation. A landmark work that showcases the vitality of German cinema during the 1920s, this sci-fi epic may strike many modern audiences as dated in certain regards (particularly in the overripe performances, which of course were de rigueur for the time), but its depiction of the class struggle ("The mediator between the hands and the head must be the heart" is the oft-spoken theme) remains perpetually fresh, while the futuristic set design was a precursor to the lavish art direction seen in latter-day fantasy flicks like Blade Runner and Batman. The movie has been shown in various truncated versions over the decades, but the Film Society is presenting the somewhat restored cut that premiered last year.

Orson Welles' Touch of Evil and Robert Altman's The Player are both celebrated for lengthy opening sequences that were filmed with one continuous tracking shot, while Alfred Hitchcock's Rope was filmed in 10-minute increments in which the camera never cuts away from the action. The limitations of the era's equipment prevented Hitchcock from shooting the entire movie in one single take, but that's now been accomplished by writer-director Aleksandr Sokurov's Russian Ark (). Part experimental exercise, part history lesson, Sokurov's unique achievement follows an unseen narrator who, unstuck in time, wanders around St. Petersberg's Hermitage Museum as centuries of significant events are discussed and/or dramatized in front of him. Not for all tastes -- fidgety viewers will quickly grow bored, while even its supporters may feel the oppressive weight of its voluminous fact-finding -- Russian Ark works best as an exercise in sheer cinematic gumption.

Samantha Morton, Oscar-nominated for Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown but best known for her excellent turn as the Pre-Cog in Minority Report, essays the title role in Morvern Callar (), writer-director Lynne Ramsay's study (based on Alan Warner's novel) of a young dreamer whose life takes some unexpected twists after her boyfriend commits suicide. Ramsay and Morton trust the audience enough to resist softening up or even explaining their central character, resulting in a difficult yet ultimately rewarding piece.

In the French import Chaos (1/2), a self-absorbed husband (Vincent Lindon) and his quietly suffering wife (Catherine Frot) witness a young prostitute (Rachida Brakni) getting beaten before their very eyes but do nothing to aid the woman. Plagued by guilt, the wife eventually locates the now-comatose hooker, nursing her back to health and eventually helping her carry out a scheme that will allow her to escape her miserable lot in life. Chaos grows ever more outlandish as it proceeds, but the two strong female protagonists (and the actresses inhabiting the roles) make the plot contrivances easier to swallow.

The Charlotte Film Society's Second Week/Second Chance series begins today at the Manor Theatre and continues the following Friday, August 15, at Movies at Birkdale. For details on prices and times, call 704-414-2355 or go online to http://charlottefilmsociety.com.

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