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The Independent Culture
Conspirators of Pleasure (no cert). After bold, singularly imaginative interpretations of Faust and Alice in Wonderland, the great Czech animator- surrealist Jan Svankmajer turns to Freud and de Sade for inspiration. His extraordinary third feature chronicles the ornate sexual escapades of six Prague residents; for example, one character conducts an elaborate ceremony involving the slaughter of a rooster, the construction of a giant papier-mache rooster's head, and the fanciful brutalization of a life- size effigy. Faultlessly paced and edited, the film is essentially an awesomely fastidious foreplay session, climaxing in six improbably rhapsodic orgies. While the explosions of animation are fitful (deployed most conspicuously when gleeful dismemberment is called for), the human characters' mystic obsessive rites are every bit as involved and alchemical as Svankmajer's wizardly methods (as seen in Faust and Alice, as well as influential short films like Dimensions of Dialogue). He has often treated puppets and real- life actors interchangeably, but Conspirators evinces an unexpected grasp of human perversity; it's the film's fleshy dimension that makes it at once funny, compassionate, and diverting.

Hollow Reed (15). Solid, heartfelt drama about a gay doctor (Martin Donovan) trying to protect his son from his ex-wife's abusive boyfriend. Paula Milne's screenplay sometimes lacks finesse, but Angela Pope is a fine director of actors. Donovan's fiercely passionate performance will surprise those who know him for his taciturn roles in Hal Hartley's films; Sam Boult, as the child, is a natural; and as Donovan's lover, Ian Hart offers more evidence that he is the most versatile and exciting young actor in Britain today.

Looking for Richard (12). Al Pacino takes a quasi-documentary approach to Richard III, intercutting rehearsals with vox pops and raucous discussions. More than any of the recent screen versions of Shakespeare, the movie is committed to appreciating, understanding and popularising the Bard, and though overlong, it has an infectious zeal.

White Man's Burden (15). John Travolta and Harry Belafonte face off in a topsy-turvy world where blacks hold the upper hand and whites are oppressed. But writer and director Desmond Nakano doesn't complement his ingenious gimmick with follow-through logic or substance. Dennis Lim