- The Washington Times - Friday, September 24, 2004

A persuasive case could be made for the Korean import “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring” as the past year’s most original and accomplished art movie. It’s a rare example of a successfully updated and realized moral fable: a distillation of the human life cycle and its struggles sustained through a clever, versatile dramatic presentation. The writer-director, Kim Ki-duk, proves exceptionally deft at maximizing the potential in a handful of characters and a deceptively isolated setting.

If you missed the theatrical engagement, a DVD edition is now available, and the timing coincides astutely with a Korean film retrospective that began last week at the Freer Gallery of Art. Borrowing a subtitle from a once-popular Italian movie, the series is called “Korean Cinema: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.”

The Freer will host several free showings, but programming will be shared with several institutions — the American Film Institute, the Hirshhorn Museum, the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Avalon Theatre — through the end of October.

If “Spring, Summer” is going to prove the harbinger of a Korean art-house vogue, it might be prudent to check out the 1 p.m. program today at the Freer, which offers some background: a pair of video documentaries about Korean movies over the past decade, Jang Sun-woo’s “Cinema on the Road: A Personal Essay on Cinema in Korea” and Kim Hong-joon’s “My Korean Cinema.”

Enthusiasts might also note that a 1988 feature directed by Mr. Jang, “Age Is Success,” will be shown Monday at 7 p.m. at the Avalon. Mr. Kim is also represented in the series: His 2002 feature “The Coast Guard” gets a single Freer showing Oct. 25.

Latin American film

The AFI is also preoccupied with one of its perennial showcases, the Latin American Film Festival, which continues for nine more days at both the vintage National Theatre site at Kennedy Center and the new Silver triplex in Silver Spring. About three dozen titles have been packed into a relatively short booking period, and a number of directors and performers have agreed to make personal appearances.

One of the most esteemed visitors expected is character actor Joaquim de Almeida, who portrayed Sherlock Holmes in “The Xango of Baker Street,” a Brazilian caprice from 2001. Transported to Rio de Janiero in 1886, the great detective is commissioned to investigate the disappearance of a prized violin. Maria de Medeiros, who played Anais Nin in “Henry & June,” has a role as Sarah Bernhardt, who evidently is touring Brazil at the time. The film is scheduled for showings at 6 and 9 p.m. Oct. 2. The series concludes the following day.

Final Visions

The clock is ticking on the National Theatre site, which the Kennedy Center plans to revamp for other purposes this winter. You might want to consider the revivals of Abel Gance’s “Napoleon” on Oct. 23-24 as an auspicious farewell weekend.

The clock has stopped for Visions Cinema, which announced a few days ago that it was closing. A farewell party is scheduled for 8 p.m. tomorrow. The management made a resourceful attempt to sustain an art-house duplex carved out of a once-spacious Loew’s auditorium on Florida Avenue in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, but the arrival of the Landmark multiplex on E Street seemed a predictable overmatch. Although the nearest competitor to Visions — the decisively obsolete Janus on Connecticut Avenue — helpfully shuttered its 21/2 mini-auditoriums (two plus a glorified closet, to be precise), the bargaining power of Landmark was always going to be daunting.

The country’s top art-house chain was arriving in the city with eight new auditoriums at its disposal. Only a prodigiously resourceful independent management could have survived Landmark’s clout. Not that hundreds of art-house features don’t go begging for theatrical exposure in the course of every year, but you need at least a handful to emerge as fluky or sustainable draws, and the vast majority seldom justify more than fleeting exposure. The one or two screenings typical of a festival format prove generous to many obscure pictures.

It seemed something of a cruel jest that one of the final Visions attractions, Vincent Gallo’s seminotorious “The Brown Bunny,” which prompted legions of walkouts when debuted at the 2003 Cannes Festival, happened to be an E Street castoff.

Visions never even got the chance to exploit the fact that Roger Ebert, so great a detractor of “Bunny” at Cannes that he and Mr. Gallo participated in a comical feud, did a modified about-face when reviewing the movie for the Chicago Sun-Times three weeks ago. He owned up to his initial hostility but decided that Mr. Gallo had improved his excruciating opus by cutting about half an hour of footage.

If only Visions had been able to broker a “Brown Bunny” kiss-and-make-up party, perhaps with leading lady Chloe Sevigny as a go-between. Alas, movie history is littered with lost opportunities.

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