Alejandro Amenabar (Spain)
For director Amenabar ( The Sea Inside), human beings are to God what ants are to mankind - tiny creatures, frenetically busy, casually interesting to observe. But ants, as far as we know, aren't prone to the kind of violent ideologies that gripped fourth-century Alexandria (and, needless to say, grip us today). Back then, newly minted Christians (the new orthodoxy) slaughtered the perceived heretics of the day: pagans and Jews. Among the real-life victims was one Hypatia, philosopher, teacher and mathematician - adroitly played here by Rachel Weisz. An embodiment of all the grace, beauty and wisdom of the age, she is stripped naked and stoned by the howling Christian mobs. Long but, like an ant colony at work, fascinating to watch. M.P.
Sept. 12, 1:30 p.m., Roy
Thomson; Sept. 14, 5 p.m.,
The Art of the Steal
Don Argott (USA)
By 2011, if the immensely powerful powers-that-be of Philadelphia have their way, the famed Barnes collection of (largely) post-Impressionist art will be relocated to a brand-new gallery in downtown Philly from its home of the last 80 or so years in suburban Merion, Pa. That this move is entirely at odds with the well-known wishes of the collection's founder, Dr. Albert C. Barnes (who died in 1951), is entirely the point of this documentary by Philly filmmaker Don Argott. As its title suggests, Argott's effort is more polemic/ cri de coeur than dispassionate depiction of the myriad forces and interests battling over the Barnes legacy which, with its 59 Matisses, 69 Cézannes and seven van Goghs, is valued at more than $25-billion (U.S.). Still, while overlong and sporting an irritating soundtrack, it does its agitprop job well and, for the most part, persuasively. J.A.
Sept. 12, 3:15 p.m., AMC 2; Sept. 14, 8:30 p.m., AMC 2; Sept. 19, 2 p.m., AMC 10
Mehran Tamadon (Iran/France/Switzerland)
When those who support the Islamic Revolution in Iran visit the barren frontier between their country and Iraq, and retell stories of how Iranian soldiers and volunteer fighters died, one after another, those people cry. When they talk about Islamic tenets, they sometimes struggle with competing logic or turn on it with accusations, just like adherents of any other belief. The point of this fascinating, patient documentary is that we are all people, bottom line. The director, an Iranian who now lives in France, returns to try to understand the deep, seemingly unbridgeable rift in Iranian society between moderates and hardliners. Interestingly, he focuses mostly on the hardliners, leaving the moderate viewpoint to anonymous questions left insufficiently answered. This seems to turn the film into a documentary intended more for the outside world, in the hope of sparking conversation and to show the thought patterns of centuries-old Iranian views of martyrdom and oppression. Does the film succeed in at least opening up the lines of communication, or does it only highlight the divide? That's something only each viewer can answer. G.D.
Sept. 17, 6:30 p.m., AMC 5; Sept. 17, 6:30 p.m., AMC 4; Sept. 18, 3:15 p.m., AMC 4
Rachel Ward (Australia)
Make no mistake: Beautiful Kate is an impressive feature-film debut by Rachel Ward, most famous until now for her appearances in Against All Odds, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid and The Thorn Birds. Working as director and screenwriter here, she seamlessly melds character with place (in this case, the Australian outback) to tell a story of forbidden love, tortuous memories, remorse and forgiveness. The acting (including that of Ward's husband Bryan Brown) is mostly pitch-perfect, the dialogue honest, unaffected and often coarse, the detailing palpably authentic. Even the flashbacks work. However, what keeps Beautiful Kate from being completely successful is the (over)familiarity of its central narrative conceit, namely estranged son (Ben Mendelsohn) leaves city with fiancee (Maeve Dermody )in tow to visit crusty dying dad (Brown) at the decaying homestead he hasn't seen in 20 years. Naturally, painful memories surface, bitter words are exchanged while the ghosts of Mendelsohn's dead twin sister (the Kate of the title) and his older brother, a suicide, weigh heavily on all concerned. Working from Newton Thornburg's 1982 novel, Ward throws in some twists to try to freshen up her closely observed domestic yarn but they're not quite enough to elevate the movie beyond melodrama. J.A.