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Foreign films heat up screens

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Hollywood is readying its big guns for the summer season, and in the interim international imports are flocking to American screens.

The best is The Lady and the Duke, directed by Eric Rohmer, a giant of French cinema. Set during the French Revolution, it chronicles the skittish friendship between an Englishwoman living in France and a curmudgeonly French aristocrat.

Rohmer's films are renowned for their beauty, so it's surprising that he made a picture using digital video rather than film. But this was the right choice, lending a sense of exquisitely crafted artifice that enhances its historical atmosphere while recalling Rohmer's achievements in earlier period films such as "The Marquise of O...."

Another longtime great, Japanese director Shohei Imamura, returns with Warm Water Under a Red Bridge, a film less vivid than its title. It's about a jobless man hunting for hidden treasure in a seaside Japanese town, where he meets a woman whose body is disconcertingly attuned to nature. Imamura's acute sense of color and offbeat storytelling aren't enough to make this fantasy more than a whimsical trifle.

Back on the bright side, the outpouring of first-rate Iranian films continues in Baran. The setting is a construction site, and the hero is an Iranian man who falls in love with an Afghan woman after misadventures with an illegal immigrant. It was directed by Majid Majidi, who gained renown with "Children of Heaven" and "The Color of Paradise." He far surpasses them with this moving tale of rivalry, romance, and cultural conflict.

• 'The Lady and the Duke' (PG-13) contains violence; 'Warm Water Under a Red Bridge' (not rated) contains sex and violence; and 'Baran' (not rated) contains violence.


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