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After the Lights Go Down 

What's up at AFI Fest 2004

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*ONG BAK: THAI WARRIOR (Thailand)

A glimpse into the airborne future of the martial-arts movie. Muay Thai kickboxing prodigy Phanom Yeerum (re-named Tony Jaa for his U.S. debut) never needs to be hoisted on wires to catch more air than Michael Jordan; he then plummets down, like death from above, in a flurry of bone-crushing knees and elbows, upon a succession of hapless opponents. Playing an earnest young village lad searching for a stolen religious idol in the decadent lower depths of Bangkok, Yeerum has a likably bashful manner when he isn’t kicking ass, and director Prachya Pinkaew (999-9999) is a real discovery, a witty orchestrator of human and vehicular mayhem. Two thumbs way up. (ArcLight 14, Fri., Nov. 5, 9:45 p.m.; ArcLight 10, Sun., Nov. 7, 2 p.m.) (David Chute)

*NOTRE MUSIQUE (Switzerland/France)

Modeled on Dante’s Divine Comedy, this brilliant, eminently quotable new film by Jean-Luc Godard follows a filmmaker (played by Godard) as he travels to a literary conference in postwar Sarajevo, where he meets (among others) a circumspect Palestinian journalist, an Israeli woman hell-bent on martyrdom and a coterie of disenfranchised American Indians. Perhaps the most easily accessible of recent Godard movies, Notre Musique is less explicitly about the Bosnian and Israeli conflicts than it is a mournful and exceptionally relevant reverie on several centuries of global terrorism and human suffering, from the blood-curdling montage that opens the film to the image of a heaven guarded by U.S. soldiers that caps it. (ArcLight 14, Sat., Nov. 6, 4 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 12, 9:30 p.m.) (SF)

INNOCENT VOICES (Mexico)

First-time screenwriter Oscar Torres supposedly based this tale of a 12-year-old boy’s odyssey through war-torn 1980s El Salvador on his own life story, and director Luis Mandoki (Message in a Bottle) returned to his native Mexico — following a decade of anonymous, big-studio assignments — to make it. Together, they aspire to show us the absurdities of war as seen through a child’s eyes, à la Forbidden Games and Hope and Glory. The most absurd thing, though, is how pat the whole movie feels. It’s canned triumph-over-adversity tale proves that while you may be able to take the hack out of Hollywood . . . (ArcLight 11, Sat., Nov. 6, 7 p.m.; ArcLight 12, Mon., Nov. 8, 1 p.m.) (SF)

*THE TAKE (Canada)

An earnest if overly talky documentary on a fascinating subject — the expropriation by more than 15,000 Argentine workers of businesses closed during the recent economic collapse. Claiming a debt to the community after the massive government subsidies handed to business by the Menem government, workers at auto-parts forges and tile factories are shown occupying and restarting the plants, then running them as collectives. If director Avi Lewis and writer Naomi Klein are too apt to insert themselves into the proceedings, this remains an inspiring account of the type of participatory socialism observers of the global economy have long declared dead. (ArcLight 13, Sat., Nov. 6, 7:15 p.m.; ArcLight 12, Sun., Nov. 7, 12:30 p.m.) (JS)

A PANTHER IN AFRICA (Tanzania)

Former Black Panther Pete O’Neal fled America for Tanzania over 30 years ago, after being arrested on false criminal charges. Having turned his exile into a continuation of the political work he did in America (utilizing the Panthers’ programs for educating and feeding the poor), O’Neal and his activist wife, Charlotte, have carved out lives of community service while battling the elements, poverty and recurring illness. What gives Aaron Matthews’ film its poignancy is O’Neal’s painfully articulated sense of being a man without a country. And when he speaks of his anguish over the pimp lifestyle he led before becoming a Panther, his voice crackles with regret and remorse. (ArcLight 12, Sat., Nov. 6, 7:15 p.m.; Tues., Nov. 9, 1 p.m.) (EH)

*THE OTHER SIDE OF AIDS (USA)

This cinematic hand grenade makes a convincing case that HIV is not the cause of AIDS, tracing the unchallenged belief to political agendas, government laziness and indifference and corporate greed. Having filled his documentary with reasoned arguments by political activists, medical experts and celebrated professors who don’t adhere to the HIV-AIDS connection, director Robin Scovill clears plenty of space for the conventional thinkers to make their case, and he doesn’t ridicule or dismiss them. But their arguments seem flimsy and unconvincing when stacked against the counter viewpoints, and the film sizzles within that gap of opinion. (ArcLight 12, Sat., Nov. 6, 9:45 p.m.; Mon., Nov. 8, 4 p.m.) (EH)

INVITATION TO A SUICIDE (USA)

In Brooklyn’s Little Poland, Kaz (Pablo Schreiber) is into a neighborhood gangster (Matthew Rauch, terrific) for 10 grand, and unless he pays up fast, his baker father is a dead man. Eureka! Kaz decides to sell tickets to his own suicide, an act of desperation that’s never as amusing as writer-director Loren Marsh apparently intends. Suicide as comedy is a tough sell, and it doesn’t help that Kaz is surrounded by callously shrieking old men, including his ungrateful father. Schreiber has an innate, sweet melancholy, which plays nicely off the worldly Katherine Moennig, portraying Kaz’s would-be girlfriend. They deserve a suicide-free love story. (ArcLight 13, Sat., Nov. 6, 10 p.m.; ArcLight 13, Mon., Nov. 8, 4 p.m.) (Chuck Wilson)

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Slideshows

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