Edinburgh International Film Festival highlights

The centrepiece of the festival is a revival of Hans- Jurgen Syberberg's gargantuan, seven hour-plus Hitler - A Film From Germany (Tues 18 Aug, 2.00, Filmhouse), which can best be described as a mixed-media film essay. It's part of a tribute to one of the quirkier talents to emerge from the New German Cinema; also included are Ludwig (Sun 16 Aug 8.15, Filmhouse) and Parsifal (Fri 21 Aug, 6.15, Filmhouse). Syberberg will be in attendance and is directing a production of Ein Traum, was sonst? in the Edinburgh International Festival. Watch out, too, for another distinguished visitor, the gruff, cigar-chomping Sam Fuller, who will be dispensing wit and wisdom on the art of cinema (Sat 22 Aug, 2.30, BBC Scotland, 5 Queen St).

The closing night film is Glengarry Glen Ross (Sun 30 Aug, 7.30, Filmhouse), adapted by David Mamet from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play (Mamet however, does not direct - James Foley does that job). A crack cast - Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon and Alec Baldwin - play the three real estate sharks who will do anything to close a sale.

One of the most notable of the special previews is Leos Carax's Les Amants du Pont Neuf (Sat 22 Aug 8.15 Filmhouse), the multi-million franc production which at one time was being dubbed the French Heaven's Gate. Actually it's a rather intimate film - a love story between two tramps sleeping rough on the derelict Pont Neuf (in fact a remarkable set constructed in the South of France) set against the patriotic fervour of the Revolutionary Bicentennial celebrations. What really lifts it is the spectacular and poetic set piece scenes - the sight of Juliette Binoche waterskiing along the Seine amid an explosion of 14 July fireworks is worth the price of admission alone.

Among the late additions is Roman Polanski's new film Bitter Moon (Thur 27 Aug, 8.15, Filmhouse). This is a very over-ripe erotic psychodrama about a young British couple (Hugh Grant, Kristin Scott-Thomas) on a cruise holiday who are buttonholed by an embittered, crippled American (Peter Coyote) and his beautiful French wife (Emmanuelle Seigner) and become drawn into their tortured, love-hate relationship. If the reaction at a London preview earlier this week is anything to go by, Bitter Moon will sharply divide audiences over just how much its comedy is intentional.

Edinburgh is fielding a lively line-up of American independent work. Swoon (Sun 16 Aug, 10.30 Filmhouse) is based on the real-life Leopold-Lowe murder case (which also, more indirectly, inspired Hitchcock's Rope). In the Twenties two gay men engage in decadent power games culminating in the murder of an arbitary victim (a little boy) for kicks. Shot in elegant, high-contrast black-and-white, the film sets their crime against the diffuse hedonism of the Jazz Age, and documents the court's use of phrenology and 'alienists' to link the couple's sexuality to their crime. Homophobic? Well, no - Swoon was made by a gay film-maker, Tom Kalin. It's the latest product of the 'new queer cinema', a small but swelling backlash against bland, boring political correctness: fed up with squeaky-clean (but two-dimensional) 'positive' images, these directors are ruthlessly peering at the darker side of the gay psyche.

Juice (Tues 18 Aug, 10.30, Filmhouse) is the latest addition to New Black Cinema, a sort of Boyz N the Hood comes the Harlem, but with quite a different look and mood. Four New York kids face the inevitable crossroads between a short, violent life of crime and a struggle to make good. A familiar story, then, but told with some style by Ernest Dickerson (Spike Lee's Director of Photography) and accompanied by a pounding rap soundtrack compiled by Public Enemy producer Hank Shocklee.

Bob Roberts (Sun 23 Aug, 10.30, Filmhouse), a 'mockumentary' about the rise and rise of a fictional right-wing Senatorial candidate, is a very interesting if not entirely successful directorial debut by the actor Tim Robbins. Robbins plays Bob Roberts, a sort of political variant on the smirking, cynical producer he created in The Player: a rock singer who has appropriated the styles and trapping of the Sixties in the cause of an ultra-conservative campaign (his new album is called Times are Changing Back]).

Roberts' star soars and he seems poised to seize power, but his shiny public image conceals a murkier reality. We never know for sure because he's only see from the outside: Bob Roberts is shot as if it were an investigative documentary by an imaginary British film- maker; for the truth, you have to read between the lines. Although Robbins blows it at the end by pounding out his message too loudly, this is mostly a subtle, very funny satire at the expense of documentary cliches and at the way the American political machinery is able effortlessly to manipulate its media image.

Slacker (Wed 19 Aug, 10.30, Filmhouse) is an outrageously low-low budget film and very rough around the edges. It's a typical day - dawn to dawn - in the lives of some hundred 'slackers' or drop-outs - people drifting along on the fringes of society. Their directionless lives criss-cross wildly in the course of the day; no one person stays on screen for longer than a few minutes, but the director, Richard Linklater, holds your interest with the likeable, unusual portrait he sketches of small-town flotsam and jetsam and the cheeky narrative connections he contrives between his wayward characters.

Simple Men (Mon 24 Aug, 10.30, Filmhouse) is the new film from Hal Hartley, the director of The Unbelievable Truth and Trust, and is made in the same distinctive, deadpan manner. Two brothers set out in search of their long-lost father and find instead some predictably contorted romantic complications. It's an elegant, spare film which some critics at Cannes found flimsy but which confirms Hartley as a mordent observer of human follies.

Of the films I haven't seen, three more films, all by first-time directors, could be worth a look. Reservoir Dogs (Fri 21 Aug, 10.30, Filmhouse), a stylish, very violent film noir directed by Quentin Tarantino and starring Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth was well-liked by some in Cannes. Gas Food Lodging (Sat 22 Aug 10.30 Filmhouse), by Allison Anders is a portrait of three women struggling to survive in New Mexico. Mac (Fri 28 Aug, 10.30, Filmhouse), by John Tuturro (who appeared in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever and starred in Barton Fink), takes an affectionate look at a family of craftsmen-builders living in New York - and won the important Camera D'Or for Best First Film at Cannes earlier this year.

The New British section consists almost entirely of low-budget, low-profile work: the glitziest is Wuthering Heights (Sat 29 Aug, 8.15, Filmhouse), the first production to emerge - finally - from Paramount's British base. But the big question is whether the French actress Juliette Binoche can hold her own as Cathy. Man to Man (Wed 26 Aug, 6.00, Filmhouse) records Tilda Swinton's remarkable one-woman (or perhaps one should say one-man) show that was the toast of the Edinburgh Fringe a couple of years ago - she plays a woman who adopts male guise as a survival tactic in wartime Germany.

Wild West (Sun 16 Aug, 6.00, Filmhouse) is a comedy about an Asian Country & Western band; I Dreamt I Woke Up (Wed 19 Aug, 2.15, Filmhouse) is a film notebook from the always-interesting John Boorman; Prague (Sat 22 Aug, 6.00, Filmhouse) is a psychological drama about a young Scot who goes East in search of his family's roots and is pitched into a strange romantic adventure. Ian Sellar, who made Venus Peter, directs.

Of the special events, one strand is devoted to local- boy-made-good Alan Sharp, the Scots-born screenwriter who will be giving a Masterclass on his craft (Thurs 20 Aug, 12.15, Filmhouse) and some of whose work will be on display, including Billy Two Hats (Wed 19 Aug, 2.00, Filmhouse), Ulzana's Raid (Thurs 20 Aug, 2.00, Filmhouse) and Night Moves (Fri 21, 2.00, Filmhouse).

Another band of local heroes are the unlikely subject of a German documentary, Inside My Head (Thurs 20 Aug, 6.00, Filmhouse), a tribute to none less than the Bay City Rollers. The documentary strand also includes Daddy and the Muscle Academy (Thurs 20 Aug, 2.15, Filmhouse), a portrait of the gay artist Tom of Finland and Music for the Movies (Sun 30 Aug, 2.15, Filmhouse), a highly acclaimed film about Bernard Herrmann, the great film composer best known for his work with Hitchcock.

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